The film The Hundred-Foot Journey has had me thinking quite a bit about what we might call crossover cuisine. The film follows an Indian family and their touching and funny story of opening a restaurant in Southwest France. They struggle to be accepted by their neighbors and in the end, find that acceptance and connection through food. But the meat (sorry) of the story—for me at least—comes along when the young, talented Indian chef is taught the French classics by Madame Mallory, a stern French restaurateur played by Helen Mirren. He masters the classics, then makes them his own by adding the Indian ingredients that he is so familiar with. It’s still French cuisine, but it is a new, Indian-inflected version. This is such a powerful notion for me because I see it all the time. It is the way I cook.
We are living in the most exciting time for American cuisine. We have been learning cooking techniques from around the world for decades. Julia Child and Jacques Pépin introduced us to French technique. Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali taught us Italian. We have pockets of immigrants from Asia, Europe, and South America, all of whom have brought their ingredients and foods from afar. Now, we can build a new American cuisine, one that is based on classic technique that uses the intriguing ingredients that can only be found together in a great melting pot like this country.
A friend of mine, also a cook, brought me a gift from her recent trip to Sicily, where they make a thinly cut pasta sautéed with fresh tomatoes and anchovies. The gift was a beech-wood pasta roller that cuts a fine, almost angel-hair-thin pasta. I made fresh pasta in my cooking school kitchen with it last night, then headed out to the garden to pick a basket full of tomatoes. My kitchen is close to the Delaware River, but there are no anchovies anywhere nearby. Instead, I used a pantry staple, Thai fish sauce, to add the depth and brine that they achieve in Italy with anchovies. The result is a pasta dish that can only be found in America: a combination of Italian technique, Asian ingredients, and the best tomatoes in the world—which are, of course, grown in New Jersey.
Pasta With Thai-Inflected Raw Tomato Sauce
For the pasta:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the sauce:
1 small garlic clove
3 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Make the pasta: Blend the flour, eggs, oil, and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor until the dough forms a ball. Or make a well in the mound of flour on a work surface, and place the eggs, oil, and salt in the well. Work the flour into the liquid with a fork until a dough forms, then knead the dough until it is an elastic ball, about 8 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
Cut the dough into quarters and dust each with flour. Using a pasta machine or a floured rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into a thin sheet, dusting with flour. Using a pasta cutter, cut the pasta into very thin spaghetti. Hang the pasta to dry, at least 4 hours.
Make the sauce and pasta: Mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt and then place in a large bowl. Core and dice the tomatoes and then stir together with the garlic, zest, lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente, about 2 minutes. Drain the pasta, then toss with the tomato sauce and serve immediately.