14 - 20 October 1999
Issue No. 451
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Out of the redBy Gamal Nkrumah
It was my partner's fault that we ended up in the Spaghetteria. I had much preferred to go to the Bird Cage. But alas, it was not meant to be. She was peckish and couldn't loiter about until six o'clock, when the Bird opened its doors. "Pasta is good for you," I was told. Pasta is best cooked at home. Why go to a restaurant to have a pasta dish that you can prepare yourself in less than ten minutes?
Few foods are quicker to throw together than a pasta dish, and we did just that at the Spaghetteria. We were ushered into what looked like a street café, except that the "street" was actually a very long corridor running the length of the Semiramis Inter-Continental's second, or perhaps third, floor.
Now, I'm going to try to be positive about this, I told myself. We decided against a set meal from the menu and instead went up to the chef who was preparing pasta dishes, with late lunchers choosing the type of pasta they fancied and the ingredients that made up the sauce to go with it. My friend was about to go for the hot sauce. The chef intervened. "You won't like that," he said with a somewhat snooty inflection. I have never trusted hot sauces myself. I suspect both the colour and the hotness are designed to camouflage something rotten. "Choose an ordinary tomato sauce and we'll ask him to add chili while we watch him prepare the meal," I advised her sagely.
The chef suggested tagliatelle, the spinach variety. I nodded enthusiastically, while my partner settled for the red, tomato-based pasta.
The chef melted a tablespoon of unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then added a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Next he tossed in raw prawns, peeled and de-veined, but with tails left on. He put in everything we pointed at: raw fennel, artichoke hearts anointed with lemon and more extra-virgin olive oil, toasted pine nuts, freshly grated parmesan cheese, sweet corn -- not the tinned variety, the kind you get in expensive little glass jars -- mushrooms, diced aubergines and asparagus, chili powder, ground coriander, dried mint, freshly ground black pepper, basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, lime juice, garlic cloves galore, diced red onion... We finally topped it all off with sliced spring onions. A heady concoction indeed, and not one you can make at home with such splendid ease.
The pasta was cooked to perfection -- firm but tender. The chef drained it and added it to the saucepan, tossing the tagliatelle quickly until it was thoroughly coated with the rich tomato sauce.
The dish was served piping hot and the chef had it garnished with yet another generous helping of fresh parsley, with the remaining parmesan on the side. The tagliatelle was not quite garganelli with porcini, but we enjoyed it all the same. It is tempting to slurp in an undignified manner when eating pasta -- another one of the advantages of consuming it in the tranquil privacy of one's home -- but we exercised admirable (and largely successful) restraint.
The food and non-alcoholic drinks came up to LE190. Just be sure to give the chili sauce a miss.
Spaghetteria, Semiramis InterContinental