A while ago I asked for suggestions for what to do with chocolate pasta. I got a lot of great suggestions, and surprisingly most of them were savory options. I also did a lot of research and came up with one or two other ideas. The idea that stuck was to make a straightforward savory dish. A few people suggested bacon, oil, and crushed red pepper – so that’s what I decided to go with. It seemed simple enough and all of those things make pasta taste so amazing.
Last Saturday I was hanging out with my friends, Mala and Anna, and we decided to try out the chocolate pasta. I’m lucky to have very adventurous friends – although maybe now they’ll be more wary of my cooking. We decided to try the pasta, sans bacon, since I didn’t have any. We were going to go basic: oil, crushed red pepper, maybe a little Parmesan.
So I boiled the water and dropped in the pasta. The kitchen filled with the most decadent chocolate aroma. It smelled like hot chocolate. But that is not descriptive enough to truly convey how great it smelled. It smelled like hot chocolate on Christmas. It smelled like when you have hot chocolate and curl up with a blanket and a book on a rainy day. It smelled like when you’re a kid and you come in from a long day of sledding and you’re face is pink and cold and your mom has hot chocolate waiting. It smelled like the best hot chocolate of your life.
And that’s probably the worst part because that smell was a lie. A horrible, disappointing, lie. Smell and taste are supposed to be so intricately linked! If a dish smells good, then that is supposed to indicate that the food will taste good.
After the pasta had been cooking for a bit, I fished out one almost-done chocolate noodle to taste. It was gummy and pretty flavorless – like what I imagine mushy sawdust would taste like. I had read that chocolate pasta doesn’t taste like a candy bar, but that there was still some chocolate flavor. This tasted nothing like chocolate. Now I was worried. I gave half of the noodle to Mala, who very kindly suggested that it wasn’t done yet and we should withhold judgement.
The water was turning a dirty brown. Dark brown, like when you’ve let a tea bag steep for too long. Was that where all the chocolate flavor was? I don’t know, because unfortunately I didn’t taste the pasta water.
But, my bold friends and I powered forward. We drained the pasta, served ourselves small portions, and added our toppings. Crowded around the table, I took my first bite and declared, “this is bad!” Anna tried to be supportive, and said some things along the lines of “it’s not good, but it’s not that bad. It’s not the worst.”
“No,” I insisted, “this is gross, bad, and a disappointment.”
Mala took one bite and said she wouldn’t eat anymore. In fact, all three of us agreed we weren’t going to eat more. The pasta was bitter, gummy, and unappealing. It tasted bitter like when you buy very pure, very dark chocolate – but there was no richness or chocolate flavor to counter the bitterness. It gave immediate bad breath and made me want to brush my teeth. We all dumped our bowls into the trash. And then we complained, moaned, and hypothesized about what could have happened.
Did I do something wrong? Maybe. But we all felt like I just boiled pasta, how could that have changed it?
Could it be that it was gluten-free? No, we decided. Each of us had eaten gluten-free pasta before and had never had such disastrous results.
Was it the toppings? I’m not sure, but companies make chocolate bars with pepper. And Anna rightly pointed out that, “oil and cheese make everything better.” Also, we felt like the pasta tasted so bad that even if we had gone with strawberries and whipped cream, it still would have tasted bad.
I didn’t expect chocolate pasta to replace regular pasta. I didn’t expect it to be like eating a candy bar. But, what I’d hoped for was a new flavor, something that would be surprising and delightful. This was none of that.
Do you know what I did wrong? Or have suggestions on what could have gone differently? Out of intellectual curiosity, I’d love to know.