As a kid and recent immigrant to the US, I remember being teased by a classmate because “you people eat raw meat!” As a kindergartner, I must have been offended by his derogatory tone – but what I remember more clearly is my amazement at how misinformed he was. “Are all Americans this ignorant?,” I wondered.
Thinking about it now, that kid was probably referring to our consumption of raw fish … something that was probably considered barbaric by the average American way back then. But fast forward a few decades … and my bets are on the grown-up, hippy version of that kid being a “woke”, proud, self-proclaimed lover of sushi. I supposed we have come a long way in cultural acceptance, at least in the food – or foodie – sphere.
Cod roe pasta is not something new to the Italian menu, but the Japanese version of it has such a wonderful mix of flavors that it’s become a popular item on the Japanese menu. Butter and soy sauce is truly a match made in heaven, and the addition of the cod roe elevates the umami to a whole new level. This pasta is incredibly simple to make – yes, you can prepare the sauce while the pasta is boiling – and requires just a handful of ingredients. If you can get your hands on some tarako (Japanese salted cod roe), the flavor-to-effort ratio is off the charts!
One pack of dry spaghetti (1 lb)
Two sacks(?) of tarako (Japanese salted pollock roe) – or mentaiko (spicy version)
1/3 Cup milk (I used whole milk)
1 tsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp butter
Cut nori (dried seaweed) – optional
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water – keep it al dente, and reserve some pasta water
While the pasta is cooking, mix the tarako, milk and soy sauce in a small bowl
When the pasta is ready, drain and toss with butter
Mix the tarako sauce into the pasta, add pasta water (1/2 Cup or more, to desired consistency)
Sprinkle with cut nori and enjoy!!
I know it’s only 10am, but I am already looking forward to my lunch … leftovers!
Well, in my case I can not settle for this. From a point of view of getting something right, this was a successful attempt. It was edible and quite enjoyable… if you did not know how it might have tasted.
There Is Always Room for Improvement
I made this focaccia because we had our friends over. Our friends are my Guinea Pigs when it comes to my food-related experiments. They will tell me the truth and the truth did come out: good but a bit insipid (though it went perfectly with the salty olives they brought) and what’s up with the lack of toppings? Even last time I had a little sprinkle of onions, which was quite enjoyable.
The truth is that I forgot, which leads me to my next point.
Practice Should Make Perfect
In the rush of getting the focaccia in the oven and not missing any of the recipe’s steps, I forgot to add any toppings (which are not mentioned in my recipe). Though it sounds unbelievable that I forgot them where I hadn’t forgotten them in my two previous attempts, I think that the reason is that I don’t have the whole procedure engraved in my brain yet. More practice is required. If you ask me to make Spaghetti Alla Carbonara, I will do it right every time because I have been making it for so long. But when it comes to focaccia I am going to have to try a few more times.
Delicious and Natural
Now that I have produced an edible version of focaccia I feel that I can recommend that you try it at home too. It is not very difficult, and the actual working time is less than making pasta by far. The ingredients are very basic (flour, water, yeast, olive oil, salt, and a bit of white wine) and natural. Maybe some day I will make a whole wheat version of it, but I am not there yet.
From A Wonderful Corner of Italy
Focaccia exists in a thousand varieties in every corner of Italy. It is one of the best street foods that I grew up with and every region has its variants (in fact, every baker worth of the name probably has a favorite variant considering that the toppings can vary a lot). I am focusing on the traditional focaccia genovese, which originated in Genova around the XVI century. This article tells you where to try it if you are ever in Genova. Some of the pictures of the bakeries are really inviting! Who’s going to Italy with me?
I did not mention this in my previous focaccia post: I really love focaccia because the bakery in the street where I lived in Milan made excellent focaccia and I spent a few summers as a young boy in Liguria, the region where focaccia originated, and I can still taste how good that focaccia was. This is why I am so determined to have awesome focaccia again. It used to be that anywhere you went in Italy would serve decent focaccia. That is no longer the case: even in Liguria, I have walked into bakeries that did not serve good focaccia. Like with all good things, I think that it should be preserved and I am trying to teach my kids how to make it (we’ll see if I am successful in a few years.)
I don’t want to call myself an artisan, because that is such an honorific (not horrific) title that only accomplished craftsmen deserve. But artisanship requires determination as you are most likely to fail at first. As you well know, I failed miserably on my first attempt that after a couple of weeks I decided to try again. I re-read the recipe, I compared it with my notes from my first attempt and decided to learn from experience this time. The dough turned out better (I kneaded it for longer), it was properly salted, I did use a higher temperature, and, most importantly, I did pour a string of olive oil on top of the dough before it went into the oven.
New Mistakes Or Learning Lessons
Unfortunately, I fell prey of a horrific habit of mine: when I like an ingredient I use too much of it. Because salt was very lacking during my previous attempt, not only did I increase the amount of salt that went into the dough, but I got a little happy sprinkling the sale grosso (large salt) on top of the dough spread out in the pan. The result was so salty that it was inedible. After scraping some of the salt I really enjoyed it but it was still too salty because it wasn’t possible to remove enough salt. Too bad! I had the top salt measured correctly the first time… Couldn’t I do the same thing?
Another thing that wasn’t ideal was the oven temperature. I used 420 Fahrenheit this time and tested it a little too soon. The crust was hard and the dough wasn’t fully cooked when I first cut it so I had to put it back.
What Will I Do Differently Next Time
It’s pretty obvious that next time I will use less large salt and will try to go back to 395 degrees for a little longer than 20 minutes. If that works I might be celebrating and you will hear about it 🙂
I am constantly trying to expand my Italian cooking horizon. When I try something new I usually fail and this time was no different. My lifelong passion for artisanally made products manifests itself at home with my desire to master Italian cooking. In particular, I love handmade pasta. But before I can deliver delicious creations I have to learn how to make them right, something that takes time and dedication.
Likewise, our very accomplished artisans, go through a similar cycle. A lot of sweat, blood, and tears accompany the introduction of a new product. And the first run sometimes is not the best and later variants surpass it in some way. That is the inevitable value of experience, and, when you think that Imperio Rossi has dedicated more than 50 years to making Murano glass, you realize that experience and dedication mean a lot.
Failure Is Simply Part of The Learning Process
Now, my focaccia was edible, but it was light years away from tasting like the focaccia I enjoyed growing up in Italy. I realized some mistakes and there are some changes I would consider next time. My mistakes were that I didn’t sprinkle the focaccia with a drizzle of oil before putting it in the oven, that I didn’t put enough salt in the dough itself, that I baked it for too long. Next time I am going to make a smaller batch so that I have less to eat in case it doesn’t turn out well. I am also going to knead it for longer after the dough has risen, and I might use a bit higher oven temperature. With these changes alone I expect a better result next time, but whether or not that is enough to make the perfect focaccia remains to be seen.
I have seen my artisans fail in the process of creating the perfect product. Some of the early Campomaggi wallets, for example, had a little too much character built in with credit card slots that were too tight for credit cards or shapes that were pretty far from rectangular. I have seen him make leather jackets that were absolutely awesome, but totally uncomfortable. We now have great wallets by Campomaggi, and I bet that some day we will have totally awesome leather jackets as well. Failure is simply part of the learning process.
Erase The Memory of Failure
What erases the memory of failure is trying again and again and finally getting it right. I am not going to give up on focaccia. Just like with my Tortellini Mantovani, I will eventually get it right.
And when I do get it right, it is going to be so awesome! And that awesomeness is my passion.