Jim O'Shea, who should know, says if you want to learn to make pasta, spend time in Saudi Arabia.
Not that every oasis boasts its own trattoria, mind you; quite the opposite. "The simple fact," says O'Shea, who spent two years in the Middle East running a hospital, "is that if you want a good meal of any kind there, you have to make it."
That is why the Irvine resident got into cooking. The reason he settled on pasta was that "the ingredients--flour, eggs and water--are simple and available anywhere in the world."
Before his trip overseas, O'Shea, 40, says he seldom even entered a kitchen. "I pretty much ate what someone made for me or handed me," he says, although he was once given an electric pasta maker and gave it a try. "The results were awful, so until the move to Saudi Arabia, any interest in cooking was 'way on the back burner."
Since then, however, by his own modest testimony and that of his family and friends, he has become a pasta master. And he says he has discovered the "therapeutic value" of making the Italian staple.
"After a tough week, there's nothing more calming for me than getting out the food processor and cutting machine and mixing up a batch," he says.
While he has made pasta by hand, he says the food processor is the only way to go. "All you have to do is throw in the eggs, flour and water, and in no time it turns itself into pasta."
He points out that there are more pasta variations than most people realize--and not just in the sauces. "Everybody has heard of spinach pasta, but I also make lemon pasta, orange pasta, tomato pasta, herb pastas and others."
The secret, he says, is adding flavorings--tomato paste, spinach, lemon zest, etc.--before the eggs go in.
Then the task is finding the right sauce. "A creamy mushroom sauce, for instance, is always interesting over an orange pasta, which is made with orange zest and a little orange juice.
"I started with the simple sauces, those made with butter and cream, and experimented a lot, worked my way up until I got the knack."
He says a few years ago he was in Rome and went to Alfredo's for its world-famous fettuccine. "Frankly," he says, "I prefer my own sauce."
His personal favorite is the one he shared with Guys & Galleys--a lemon pasta in a sauce of clams, vermouth, butter and shallots.
O'Shea, who these days is regional sales manager for ArmStar and involved in the sale of marble to Japan, does not restrict his cooking to pasta.
"I make soups and have smoked ducks and things like that," he says, "but my wife, Aleta, has a far broader range of skills."
Each week, Orange County Life will feature a man who enjoys cooking and a favorite recipe. Tell us about your candidate. Write to Guys & Galleys, Orange County Life, L.A. Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626.
LEMON PASTA WITH CLAM SAUCE
1 3/4 cup flour
Zest of one lemon
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
Put in a food processor with a metal blade. Add zest of one lemon. Process briefly and then add egg and process again. Add lemon juice and process. Slowly add drops of water until mixture forms a ball in the bowl. Allow ball to spin for 30 seconds and stop. Pasta dough needs to stand 20 to 30 minutes to allow gluten to form before rolling and cutting into preferred form (spaghetti, fettucine, etc.).
one 6 1/2-ounce can chopped clams.
1/4 cup top-quality olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/4 cup vermouth
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon oregano
In large skillet, combine oil and butter. Heat until butter starts to melt and add garlic and shallots and saute. Add wine and liquid from can of clams, oregano, red pepper flakes and basil. Simmer 10 minutes. Add clams and cook an additional 2 minutes. Cook pasta in boiling water about 1 minute. Do not overcook. Garnish with 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest.