The pasta I like best is one capable of holding a sauce - those that come with nooks, crannies, pockets and hollows in which a dribble of cream or a morsel of sauce can safely hide till it gets in your mouth.
It's the shells, tubes and spirals that get my vote over the ribbons and strings every time. Of course this could be pure greed: There is something much more satisfying about biting into a bit of pasta that oozes cheesy, herby sauce into your mouth than one that feels like a piece of oily string.
The more interesting pasta shapes, such as the shell-shaped conchiglie or the ear-like orecchiette, didn't just happen. You know that someone once put a great deal of thought into the stuff we now treat as the ultimate no-brain supper. It took nothing short of a genius to come up with the classic shapes of pasta.
I'm not quite sure when I kicked my pasta habit. One minute it was three times a week, the next thing it was down to twice a month. There was no deliberate attempt at cutting the carbs or trying to clamber my way out of the knee-jerk pasta supper option. It just happened. The upside is that I now treat those bags of pillows and knots with a lot more respect. I guess I think about them more, and their suitability to the sauce.
There have been some handsome aubergines in the market, and I wish I'd thought to grow some myself this year. I have often felt that aubergines, with their autumnal warmth, would be a good partner for pasta, but I'm not fond of the usual lumpy aubergine sauce akin to ratatouille.
Rather better, at least to my mind, is to bake or grill the aubergines till they collapse, then scrape their pashmina-soft flesh into a mixing bowl. Bring to a sauce consistency with bright, fruity olive oil (a lush might use a dash of cream, too) and hand-torn basil leaves, and sharpen slightly with lemon juice. Fold the drained pasta into the sauce before adding a contrasting texture such as toasted pine kernels or pumpkin seeds.
Autumnal pasta dishes need a mellowness of flavor if they are to feel right for the moment - some sauteed mushrooms, a little blue cheese, snippets of smoked bacon or pancetta, or perhaps some grilled peppers will all satisfy more than something with lemon or fresh herbs.
The plum season is in full swing, bringing with it translucent fruit as sweet as honey. I admit to gorging myself. How could you not? The season is so short. The ubiquitous Victoria is a thoroughly fine plum for cooking, promising plenty of juice and a deep plum flavor, and it is likely to be all you will be offered in the average greengrocer. But there are so many more worth looking for.
Czar is a small plum, exquisitely flavored, as are Early Rivers and Coe's Golden Drop, should you spot them. They are exceptionally juicy and make superb fillings for puddings that have no lower crust, such as crumbles and cobblers.
It has hardly been plum nirvana in my own garden this summer. After last year's heaving boughs of golden mirabelles, this year most fruits failed to go beyond the blossom stage, possibly due to several days of heavy rain just as it came out. So it's off to the market for bags of cheap Victorias and punnets of translucent fruits of a rarer breed. Autumn, it seems, is here in earnest. (Northeast web)