I was asked to create a series of recipes using Brita filtered water as part of the Better with Brita campaign, and I have to admit that at first, I was a little sceptical. I wondered if using filtered water could actually make a blind bit of difference in cooking. I mean, I didn’t even drink filtered water at that point (I do now – the difference it makes to London council pop is quite something – less chewing involved). Anyway I decided to do some experiments, and found that actually, in some dishes in particular, using filtered water really does affect the end result. Here’s the first of my recipes, then, a foodstuff very close to my heart (and my arse, and my belly) – pasta.
At first I considered the possibility that my ‘orrible South London, ‘ard as nails, thick-with-limescale-potential water would be absorbed by the pasta and taint the flavour, which it does, actually, as I found out when I did a side by side taste test. Once I’d put the sauce on though, it was hard to notice that much of a difference. What was left with me however, was the idea of all the crap being in there. Once I’d tasted the impurities, they were lodged in my mind and muddying my pasta. Nothing messes about with my pasta.
There was a bigger difference, however – the starchiness. In On Food and Cooking, McGee says that hard, alkaline water like mine increases the amount of starch that is released from the pasta, by weakening the ‘protein starch film at the noodle surface, and the ions act as a glue to bond noodle surfaces together’. Basically, it’s stickier. I don’t want sticky pasta. I want the silkiest separated strands of spaghetti and I’m damn well going to have them. I deserve the best pasta it is possible to have, don’t I? There’s a perfect slipperiness about this spaghetti, and a creamy texture. I’ve topped it here with lamb and anchovy meatballs (the only dish where I don’t mix sauce with pasta as I think it looks pleasantly old school). The meatballs are bright with lemon zest, and they have a lightness from the bread soaked in milk, meaning you can easily plough through a massive bowl while channeling Ray Liota.
Spaghetti with Lamb and Anchovy Meatballs Recipe
For the meatballs
400g minced lamb
8 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed (I like garlic in both the meatballs and sauce, but feel free to omit this here if you don’t)
1 slice decent white bread, crusts removed, soaked in 5-6 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon parsley, leaves finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
For the sauce
2 tins of good quality chopped tomatoes
1 largeish onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (or to taste)
A good knob of butter
2 bay leaves, torn
1 glass white wine
450ml good quality vegetable or chicken stock
Parsley, finely chopped
Parmesan, to serve
Spaghetti (I’ll leave the amount up to you as I’m not prepared to divulge the disgusting amounts I can get through in one sitting)
Mix all the meatball ingredients together with some black pepper. Fry off a tiny little patty of the meatball mixture to taste it for seasoning – you may want to add some salt. Form the rest into meatballs with floured hands (slightly smaller than golf balls). It should make around 28-30 depending how large you make them.
Add a very small amount of oil (groundnut, veg) to a pan and fry the meatballs in batches, around 6-8 at a time. When they are browned remove them and set aside.
Soften the onion in all the lovely flavoured fat that has come out of the meatballs. Once they’re softened, add the garlic and fry briefly, then splash in the wine. Let it cook out for a couple of minutes, then add all the other ingredients. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Add the meatballs back in and get your spaghetti on.
Fill a large pan with BRITA filtered water. and a good amount of salt, more than you think. When it has come to the boil, add your spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain. Top with some meatballs and sauce, parsley and parmesan.