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Sunday, February 17, 2008

La Bruschetta Celebrates the End of the Writers' Strike with a Free Meal

La Bruschetta Ristorante, a West LA landmark, generously hosted a buffet lunch for members of the Writers' Guild. For 24 years, Angelo Peloni, the owner, has proudly served high-quality, affordable Italian food. Twenty years ago, at the end of the last writers' strike, he told his friend, George Kirgo, then the President of the WGA, that he wanted to make a meal for the writers to celebrate the conclusion of the strike. Today, he did it again.

In addition to the delicious meal, Angelo provided the opportunity to get together one more time, to remind us how much we all liked the community of writers we discovered on the picket line. With his lunch, Angelo was telling us that we should stay connected, and what better way than to do that than with a good meal.

We enjoyed a tasting from the menu. An Antipasto Misto Della Casa started the meal with an array of meats, marinated and fresh vegetables, and cheeses. On the buffet line, those taste treats were followed by 2 pastas (Pasta Farfella al Pesto and a Penne Bolognese); then a Vegetali Misti, steamed broccoli, carrots, and zucchini; and at the far corner of the long table, 2 meat dishes (Polpette di Carne, meatballs in tomato sauce, and Pollo Cacciatora). The meal ended with beautiful squares of Tiramisu.

There's nothing better than a good meal to stimulate conversation. To my thinking, the Italians are the best at doing that. They don't allow any one dish to dominate the meal. Progressing by differences, small portions lead through a series of flavors, textures, and sensations. Today, at La Bruschetta, that stimulation provoked conversation that was sometimes about the food ("Did you taste the grilled eggplant rolled around the goat cheese? And that roasted red pepper!"), but mostly the conversation was about our lives. What did we do during the strike? What are we doing now that things have returned to normal?

The center piece of the brunch was Angelo's pastas, the sauces perfectly balanced. In the interest of stimulating meal-time conversation, I'd like to contribute a pasta recipe of my own.

Ziti with Mushrooms and English Peas

1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
½ cup English peas, shelled, washed
2 garlic cloves, peeled, julienned
4 mushrooms, brown or shiitake, washed, thin sliced
½ box De Cecco ziti
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
1 cup pasta water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sweet butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Parmesan or Romano cheese, freshly grated

A very simple pasta that is perfect as a second course, between a salad and a meat course, or as a side dish with a grilled chicken breast or steak. For my vegetarian friends, the sauce is made with pasta water, sweetened with a pat of butter.

Make the pasta first. Fill a large pot with water. Add 2 teaspoons of Kosher salt and bring to a boil. Add the ziti and stir well. Put a colander in the sink. Stir the pasta every couple of minutes. The pasta is done when it is firm but not too soft, probably after 10 minutes. Put a heat-proof measuring cup in the sink next to the colander. Empty the water and pasta into the colander, making sure you capture at least 1 cup of the salted, cooking water. Set the cup aside. Return the pasta to the pot, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon of butter, and season with a little freshly ground black pepper. Toss to mix well and lay a sheet of tin foil over the pot to keep warm. Set aside while you make the sauce.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a sauté pan, over a medium flame, and lightly brown the garlic, shallot, mushrooms, and peas. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 cup of pasta water. Reduce on a medium flame until the liquid has begun to thicken. Add the pasta and the Italian parsley and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce.

Divide the pasta into 2 portions. Top with the freshly grated cheese. For ultra-fine grating, use a microplane grater.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

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