Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pasta with Mascarpone (or cream), Garlic, Spinach, and Crumbled Bacon: The Art of Practice

For KY and DC, and their focus and drive on Practice and for challenging me so.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, explores what makes people who excel at something so great.  One of the qualities he quickly identifies and expands upon is the idea of practice.  People who have done great things, who are extremely successful, are not there by accident, but instead, more often than not, there because of practice.  Whether it is Bill Gates (who started practicing on computers while in high school, thanks to a twist of fate that put him there when computers were JUST starting out) or a hockey player who starting playing at a young age, practice is one factor that allows these people to be so successful.  How much practice?  10,000 hours.  Ten THOUSAND hours is the magic number, according to Gladwell, where a person separates himself from the pack.

10,000 hours is equivalent to 1 hour a day for 30 years.  That's right.  THIRTY YEARS!  Great pianists start practicing 2 to 3 hours a day, so the years can be cut in half, or into a third of that time.  10 or 15 years to become great at something.   That's a huge investment of time in practice.  I don't think I did that for piano, not quite hitting 10,000 hours before I stopped when I was 17, but I would guess that since restarting at 26, I'm pretty close to 10,000 hours.

The other day, old good friends DC and KY came by for a quick dinner and a visit, and the two of them are some of the most committed educators I've ever met.  Both work tirelessly in schools where 95% of the population is below the poverty line, yet 95% to 100% of their kids are proficient by grade 4.  Do you know what it takes for that to happen?  Sheer practice.  Their schools focus on the beauty, the skill, the discipline of practice, and they get their kids all reading at grade level by grade 4.  Daughters' school, which has probably no one at the poverty line, and the school feeds from an upper middle class background - we are less than 75% proficient by grade 4.  That is HOW amazing what they are doing is, and furthermore, how amazing practice is.

Talking to DC and KY really challenged me and reminded me how important and valuable practice is and the value of focused practice in schools.  They laughed when I told them that when Daughter #1 struggled with borrowing, I literally made her do 500 problems over the course of three days until she had mastery of it.   Unfortunately if I did not do this practice with Daughter #1, she would NOT have gotten it at her school.  I'm in charge of making sure that when she needs the practice she gets it.  I have to remind her (pretty gently) about practicing her piano, about working on her theory, about all the other stuff, which pretty much makes me sound like a crazy tiger mom, but really what I want her and all of Children to know is this - practice is necessary, essential, and the key to success.  No one should expect (or want) instant success, much the same way we expect instant text or mail or food.

Which brings me to cooking - if you haven't cooked, and you haven't put in your hours of practice, chances are that you are NOT going to be good when you first start out.  I will say positively that I am a far better cook NOW than I was 15 years ago.  Since those 15 years have passed, I can say that I've probably put in 10,000 hours of practice, which means that yes, things that are hard for a novice are not hard for me, because I've put in that time.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Is it hard work?  Of course it is.  If you're not breaking into a sweat or a few tears cooking a meal every once in a while, you're really not working hard enough.

No one said cooking was easy - I definitely don't believe it is.  BUT, with practice - it can be easier than it was yesterday, or two days before, and will be better tomorrow or the next day.  With each dish you practice, you put in your hours so that things that were hard, eventually become easier.  So don't be afraid.  Step up and just try.  I think THIS pasta recipe is soooo easy, but so tasty - you have just GOT to try and practice with it.  The rotini, with its tiny corkscrews means that creamy mascarpone clings to the noodle and spinach and bacon just round out the dish.  I saw the recipe originally with Giada de Laurentiis on her show, and I've just modified it for ingredients that I generally have.  If you don't have mascarpone cheese do not worry, because cream works just as well and tastes really delicious as well.

So - let's all just practice!  (no one said it had to be great the first time.)
Pasta with Mascarpone (or cream), Garlic, Spinach, and Crumbled Bacon
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
salt
4 oz bacon, chopped into tiny pieces, excess fat trimmed if desired (you need some for it to be yummy, but you can cut some off)
1 pound rotini, fusili, or other corkscrew type pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
10 cups baby spinach (10 ozs or so)
Freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano (6 ounces)
1 cup mascarpone cheese (8 ounces), at room temperature OR ¾ cup of heavy cream (if you don’t have the mascarpone)

Method
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the pasta.

While pasta is cooking, in a fry pan, over medium high heat, cook bacon until it is golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow bacon to drain on a paper towel.

In the same pot you cooked the pasta, heat olive oil and add chopped garlic and cook for 30 seconds, and add spinach all at once. Cook spinach until it is wilted, about another minute. Season with pepper. Remove from heat. Add pasta, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, toss until coated. Season with salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together reserved cooking liquid and marscapone cheese until smooth OR use ¾ cup cream and pour over pasta. Toss until everything is coated. Sprinkle bacon on top.  Check seasonings and serve.

Printable recipe
A worthwhile read

1 comment:

Lynn :) said...

I enjoyed reading this post so much! ^_^ It was an encouragement to me as a youth pastor and a good reminder to persevere in helping my students establish good practices of spiritual disciplines so they might know and love God more and more! :) Love all your posts and the food looks super yummy too. :) I'm going to try it for a church fellowship event ^_^

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