Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pasta Mama!

This week marks my 30th anniversary of my move to San Diego from Los Angeles. I grew up in L.A., attended UCLA, and--after several post-college years living in New York--returned to L.A., where I worked for four years before deciding to relocate to San Diego.

I still have a big place in my heart for my hometown, but the reality is L.A. is no longer the place I knew so well. Like any city, so much has changed and disappeared. It's the very definition of a city. So many of my personal landmarks are gone. Movie theaters and bookstores. Childhood restaurants like Mike's Pizza (best garlic rolls ever), the Encino Dupars, and the Encino Deli. Even neighborhood names have changed to become more hip. I know this from watching House Hunters and looking up places that I'd never heard of in the San Fernando Valley, where I grew up. But there's still one place I enjoyed that's still there--and still has its landmark item on its menu. The place is a restaurant called Hugo's and the dish is Pasta Mama.

Back in the day Hugo's had only one location: in West Hollywood. Now it's also in Agoura Hills and Studio City. I, of course, went to the original one in West Hollywood.

I don't know why I started thinking about this dish recently. I know I loved it, but I hadn't sought to recreate it. But why not? Pasta Mama combines the best of breakfast and dinner: pasta and scrambled eggs. Toss in some garlic, herbs, and grated parmesan cheese and you've got a dish that works from morning till night. It's a compound comfort food dish since it's a mix of two others.

And, there's no reason you can't riff and add other ingredients. Bacon, of course, but also roasted shrimp. Seasonal herbs. Or vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, Swiss chard, tomatoes. Or lush, gooey cheeses. You can see where I'm going here. Mama's flexible.

I scrounged around online to refresh my memory and found lots of versions of this dish. Here's my "best of" version. And I made it using, not spaghetti, but a really cute seasonal butternut squash zucchette pasta I just found at Trader Joe's.

The trick to making this dish is to have all your ingredients prepped in advance. Once the pasta is cooked it all goes very fast. So mince your garlic, place your garlic powder, oregano, seasoning salt, and onion powder together in a little bowl, chop your parsley, beat the eggs, and grate your Parmesan cheese.

Ready? All you need to do is cook the pasta (and save the hot pasta water). Heat a sauté pan, add the oil or butter, and then add the garlic and seasonings. Stir it around for up to two minutes, then add the parsley. Mix together and add the pasta and hot pasta water. If you're reheating pasta, use hot water. Once it's all stirred together, add the beaten eggs. Pretend you're scrambling them, but with lots of other goodies added. Once the eggs are just cooked through, stir in the Parmesan cheese. If you're adding other ingredients, add them when it makes sense. Cooked bacon should be chopped into pieces and added at the end to maintain the texture. Same with the vegetables--or cook them in advance if they need it. Add a cheese that will soften and run after you've cooked the eggs.

You get the idea. Just know you need to serve it immediately. It's not a dish that sits around well.

Enjoy--and happy San Diego anniversary to me! Cheers, L.A. I still love you--just from a distance.

Pasta Mama
Serves 1 to 2 people
(printable recipe)

5 ounces pasta (about 1/3 lb. fresh or dry)
1 tablespoon olive oil (or unsalted butter)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 teaspoon oregano
1⁄4 teaspoon seasoning salt
1⁄4 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon hot pasta water
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Cook pasta according to directions or measure out leftover pasta that you’ve warmed up.

Turn on burner to medium. Pour oil (or melt butter) in a 10-inch sauté pan.

Add minced garlic and the seasonings; sauté together for one to two minutes.

Stir in fresh, chopped parsley. Then add pasta with 1 tablespoon hot pasta water.

Add beaten eggs and stir in well.

Add Parmesan cheese, mix in and cook through. Serve immediately.

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