31 August 2006

Almost Pasta YiaYia

bucatini with feta, cinnamon, browned butter and browned garlic

I think I know what a man feels like when he picks up his mail-order bride at the post-office and she turns out to be ugly. Oh, the disappointment.

Last month I ordered some bucatini pasta from Italy and gleefully awaited its delivery for at least a week. Much like a young man eagerly expecting his mail-order bride, I dreamt of the many days we would share together, my bucatini and me.
I prepared my home for my new bride by clearing away a cozy spot in the kitchen cabinet and buying her pretty things would make her happy in her new home. I even purchased an isight camera so that she could keep in touch with her family back in Naples.

I had it all planned out. The first of our many special moments together was going to be Pasta YiaYia, a dish on which I have gorged myself countless times at Lula Cafe. Drenched in browned butter, strewn with crumbled feta and crispy browned garlic, then sprinkled with cinnamon, Pasta YiaYia is an uncommon yet magnificent combination of ingredients.

The bucatini at Lula Café is delicate and willowy, its light, hollow strands softly bending across each other, loosely gathering the feta and the garlic in their folds. I was so anxious for my package to arrive so I could make this beautiful pasta! Alas, my giggles of anticipatory delight were stifled when I opened up the delivery box. My bucatini was neither willowy nor delicate, but instead stocky and sturdy. It was nothing but glorified spaghetti. Glorified, fat, hollow spaghetti.

mail-order bucatini that is unfortunately less lovely than the bucatini at Lula Café

I disgustedly cast the lackluster bucatini aside and moped for days (not to be confused with mopped for days). Was I being superficial by not graciously accepting this pasta into my life based on its appearance alone? Probably I was, so I decided to try to make Pasta YiaYia and see if this un-glamorous bucatini could possibly live up to my expectations.

Turns out I’m not superficial and I actually am a good judge of character based on appearance alone. My mail-order bucatini did not compare to the bucatini at Lula Café. The flavors were indeed magnificent, but the shape and texture of the bucatini did not resemble the fragile tangle of pasta presented at Lula's.

Perhaps the imported pasta of which I still have 2 pounds left is the real bucatini, and Lula Café’s bucatini is only a variant. Perhaps the next time I am dining at Lula I shall sneak into the kitchen and determine their source. And if they make their own bucatini, perhaps I shall ask the manager if I could prettyplease purchase a small quantity of such lovely pasta. My pursuit of Pasta YiaYia remains unfinished.

Does anyone want 2 pounds of bucatini from Naples?

Pasta YiaYia
~adapted from Lula Cafe.

¾ lb. bucatini
6 tablespoons butter
1 head garlic, each clove sliced very thinly crosswise (slices will be petal-shaped)
4-6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
½ teaspoon cinnamon (Café Lula uses Moroccan cinnamon, I only had regular cinnamon)

Boil pasta in salted water until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, heat butter over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Just as the butter turns to turn golden-brown, add the garlic slices. Continue to cook the garlic and the butter until the butter is browned and the garlic turns dark golden-brown and crispy. Remove from heat. Do not overcook the garlic or it will taste bitter.
With a slotted spoon, remove the garlic slices and set aside.
Drain the pasta and add to the butter.
Add the cinnamon to the noodles. Stir until noodles are coated with butter and cinnamon.
Plate the pasta on individual plates.
Divide the feta and the garlic slices evenly between the plates.
Sprinkle with additional cinnamon, if desired.


aria said...

i have once before seen that curious hollow spagetti but knew not of its origin or purpose. i'm sorry your mail order romance has not panned out. i suggest driving the pastas far away on a desert road w/ a container of sauce so they are not *totally* screwed. that way you wont have to feel guilty either.

Lauren said...

Oh how I love Lula's pasta yiayia!!!! Also, I think they're nice enough there that if you asked about their bucatini they would tell you.

Erielle said...

Aria~ Thank you for your sympathy. I think I will grow accustomed to my pasta and maybe someday I will learn to love it, as many mail-order marriages do.

Lauren~ I think so too. I'll keep you updated.

t0rie said...

I can't wait to try to make this dish - thank you!
Pasta - good. Feta - good. Cinnamon - good. Garlic - good. I just never would have put them all together! Until now...

Erielle said...

Just you wait!

innommable said...

I found this blog in a search for people who've blogged about Lula Cafe.

Beautiful photos! I'm going to become a regular reader, I think.

innommable said...

Oh, and Pasta YiaYia was the first dish I ever had at Lula. I have not yet made it at home. I'm afraid to try.

Denise said...

You are SOOO funny - don't take that comment lightly cos I don't find many things funny, my husband says I sit on my humour.
That suicidal brussel sprout was the best.
Re: bucatini - you didn't happen to buy Susan Spungen's latest cookbook, did you? She and Martha Stewart rave about bucatini - I managed to find it at my local supermarket - dry not fresh. While I really liked it, I also thought, Hunh? Didn't we use this for spaghetti when I was a kid?

Your local restaurant must make their own. But your recipe sounds divine so I will try it with my 99c bucatini (also Italian but no airs and graces about this bucatini).

Erielle said...

Immommable, the only reason you should be afraid to try making Pasta YiaYia is that you will see all the butter in it, and you won't want it anymore. It might be better to just order it at Lula.

Denise, I'm so glad your humor is not being sat upon when you read Fancy Toast! :D
Yes, I think Lula Cafe must make their own bucatini. I still haven't been there since I wrote the post, shame one me.
I don't have the cookbook that you are talking about, but yes, the bucatini I have been using strikes me as nothing more than hollow spaghetti.
Even so, you'll enjoy the recipe. It'a a lovely flavor combination.

LS said...

Thanks! My yiayia used to make this for us when we were kids, but I can rarely find anything on the internet about this great Greek spaghetti. Hooray!

TKTC said...

I haven't even tried the Pasta YiaYia at Lula yet- just reading the description over brunch yesterday was enough for Google to point me in your direction. I'm going iwth linguine. Not the same at all but I can at least trust the texture.

And how lovely- I always like finding fellow foodies in Chicago!

Billy said...

The pasta is mezzani, not bucatini. All of the bucatini I've seen is the small, almost spaghetti-sized kind, but what they serve at Lula is, I'm pretty sure, mezzani--despite what the menu says. They sometimes carry it at Stanley's at North and Elston. I've been able to find it there two out of three times so far, and it's just right.

Erielle said...

Mezzani, huh? Wow! All these years...
THANK YOU SO MUCH! I will definitely head up to Stanley's ASAP and try that. You're the best.

RJordan said...

I am SOOOOOOOO Happy that I came across your blog! I love Lula's Pasta Yia Yia and followed your recipe last night, but added toasted Almonds, which I believe Lula does as well. When I tasted it, I was in HEAVEN! It tasted almost identical to Pasta Yia Yia! Now I will be trying some of your other recipes. Thank you so much!

Samm said...

Thank you for posting this!!! I moved away from Chicago a few years ago and this is one of the foods that I miss the MOST.

Sarah Holden said...

I highly recommend this italian grocery store in chicago: http://www.yelp.com/biz/j-p-graziano-grocery-co-chicago
They have various imported italian foods and you can at least look at them and see what they are before you buy them. Not sure how prices compare or if they have this type of pasta, but it is definitely a possibility. Thanks for the recipe, I plan on trying to make it tonight!

Anonymous said...

I also first learned of pasta Yia Yia at Lula Cafe. I made it once but without bucatini. Did you ever find out where one could purchase it here in Chicago? Thanks!

Brent Smith said...

The recipe needs lemon juice when tossed with pasta

Benjamin Thompson said...

I'm making Pasta YiaYia tonight! I love it. I live in Logan Square so I can throw a rock and hit Lula but it's so easy to make at home and I can eat in privacy without others seeing how much extra feta I consume! French Feta is the best.