Too Much “Pop” in the Paparadelle

June 8, 2008

What a bummer.

On Friday, we went out to dinner with our friends Kimrick and John. I had the good fortune of being in a fabulous co-op preschool class with my older son for a few years and that is where I met Kimrick. She is a transplanted Southerner and she radiates warmth and friendship. We hadn’t spent enough time with them until last summer when we went to Lake Wenatchee for a weekend. We had a blast with them and their two kids but did not love the incredibly windy spot where we spent said weekend. John told us on Friday night that when he tells people he went there, 75% of them ask, “Was it windy?”. YES.

Last August was a long time ago, so we were overdue for a dinner out with them. To my delight, she asked if we wanted to go to Tilth. This is an almost exclusively organic, lovely little restaurant in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. Recently, it was written up in the New York Times as one of the restaurant critic’s favorite restaurants in the country outside of NYC (read the article here). I had eaten there once before with a friend but Randy had never tried it so I was really excited to go.

The menu at this restaurant is inspired and inspiring. Everything sounds delicious and to my delight, there were two vegetarian main course offerings and only one of them was pasta! The waitress came by to tell us about the special and it was a – can you believe it – vegetarian risotto. I know I have bitched here about only being offered pastas and risottos in restaurants, but I have to say, I have never been told about a special that I could actually eat. I wanted to stand up and applaud!

The great sounding menu made choosing hard. We agreed to share appetizers and then each order our own main dish. One of the nice aspects of this restaurant is that everything is offered in two different sizes. So you can order enough to share or to eat all by yourself – you have a lot of flexibility. We shared a Zucchini Squash Salad and a Dungeness Crab Salad to share (no crab for me) and my expectations were high.

And this is where the evening went downhill. Not from a company standpoint, we had a wonderful evening talking and laughing with Kimrick and John. No, the food, oh the food! Everthing was sooooo SALTY.

I can hear my brother Michael saying, “But you used to put salt on you pizza!”. And it’s true. I did. I love my salt. I probably even over-salt my food. I had noticed, before the food came, that there was a little dish of sea salt on the table. This fact made me happy because I hate when restaurants don’t include that small detail. The message is “our food is perfectly seasoned so you won’t need salt!”. But everyone’s palate is different and, as I said, I tend to err on the salty side.
But this was something else entirely. The Zucchini Salad had some lovely components to it. Nice thin slices of the squash with arugula (one of my faves) and lots of crunchy hazelnuts with a nicely acidic lemon verbena scented dressing. I couldn’t even taste the delicate sweetness of the zucchini though because of the salt. In the moment, I couldn’t even pinpoint what it was that was bothering me about it because I am so used to under-seasoned food.

And then came the entrees. I ended up ordering the Truffled Papparadelle. What is it about Paparadelle? I just love that shape pasta. I am usually more of a stab-it-with-your-fork kind of girl in the pasta world (think rotelle, penne) than a chase -it -round-the-plate-trying-to-wind-it-on-your-fork type (think spaghetti, fettucine). Maybe it’s because it is too big to attempt the wind-around but still has a much more delicate texture than the big chunky pastas. At some point, why ask why – the truth is I love the stuff.

This dish was a wonder to behold. On top of beautifully homemade noodles all wound around shocking green peas and pea vines (another one of my favorites), was a perfectly fried sunny-side up egg. It all but put out it’s hand and said hello to me. There were no brown edges and even the bottom was perfectly white. I cut in to said egg and the gorgeous orange/yellow yolk spilled over my noodles and I literally started to salivate. But one bite told me something was dreadfully wrong.

Again, it was initially hard to place. I first thought, “Oh, it’s too rich. The yolk with the obviously healthy amount of butter is just too rich for me.”. A few bites later I realized that it was just so salty (in addition to being too rich) that it was literally starting to hurt my tongue. Another bite or two and I couldn’t even look at the plate.

Kimrick, bless her, ordered the special so I got to taste something else. The risotto was made with morel mushrooms and thyme and topped with broiled goat cheese. It sounded so interesting that I almost chose that for my entree. But, to me, it was even worse than the pasta. The goat cheese was very strong and there was way too much of it so after one bite, all I could taste was the powerful tang of the cheese and, you guessed it, salt.

I know the desserts are supposed to be good at Tilth but Kimrick and John had to go get their kids and I was ready for a change of venue anyway. Almost immediately, I started to crave another Papparadelle dish. It is one that I have made many times before and I decided that I would modify it so as to include some of the best ideas from the restaurant dish without the dish-destroying salt. I originally started with a recipe from Cooking for Mr. Latte called Paparadelle with Lemon, Herbs, and Ricotta Salata, but I have made many changes. This is a much much lighter dish than I had at Tilth but it is something that I crave, especially with the changes I made most recently inspired by Tilth.
Paparadelle with Herbs and a Poached Egg
Serves 4
I am a kitchen gear-head and I have an egg poacher. If you love poached eggs like I do, this is a worthwhile investment because they turn out perfect in terms of both looks and taste. If you don’t want to spend the $45 to buy one, I give instructions on how to poach eggs in a wide saucepan.

1 lb. paparadelle pasta
4 cups veggie stock
3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 lemons, zest grated and juiced
3 tbsp. mixed herbs, chopped (I used thyme, tarragon, and Italian parsley)
1/2 cup English peas, shelled (or use frozen)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 eggs
1) Put a large pot of water on to boil and when it is close, add a good sized handful of kosher salt.
2) Put the veggie stock in a small saucepan along with the garlic and bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly so it is still boiling, and cook until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
3) At some point during the cooking, add the peas (whether they are fresh or frozen) and cook for about one minute, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
4) Once the stock is reduced, add the zest and juice of the two lemons, cover, and remove from the heat.
5) Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, then drain.
6) To poach the eggs, bring a wide saucepan of water to boil. Add a couple of teaspoons of white wine vinegar and reduce the heat to a simmer. One by one, quickly break the eggs in to a ramekin and add to the saucepan. Once they are all in, cover the pan and turn off the heat. Set the timer for 3 minutes. Lift the eggs out of the water with a slotted spoon and pat dry.
7) Pour the paparadelle back in to the cooking pot and add the reduced stock. Give it a stir and add the herbs and the peas. Plate it, dust with Parmesan cheese and top with a poached egg.

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