Masterchef: Choices and Bad Pasta


*It is week 10 of Masterchef (U.S.). 11 remain after Christine went home last week.

This week was about choices and pasta, specifically bad pasta. They were given two mystery boxes for the first time in Masterchef history. Under one box were ingredients found in many kitchens and pantries, while the other had upscale proteins, cheeses, and other things you only get at high end grocery or specialty stores. The choice was to select one box to cook from and produce, of course, a stellar dish. Courtney and Leslie, who both cooked from the upscale box, get called up. Victoria cooked from the ordinary box. All three had stellar dishes but Leslie used three proteins to great effect and won the round. Victoria though really showed how cleaver she was in taking tilapia and making it a cut above the ordinary. Courtney loved being able to cook with those expensive ingredients but like Victoria has to wait outside while Leslie goes into the pantry. And you know they were worried because Leslie has some bones to pick with a few of them.

All three judges presented their favorite stuffed pastas. And those can be hard to get just right. He ends up choosing caramelle, a stuffed pasta I never heard of before. According to the website Classic Pasta:

These small, filled pastas, are shaped into tubes or cylinders, almost like mini-cannelloni, and then the ends are twisted. The resulting shape can be compared to (pardon our French): bon-bons., Sometimes they are called (pardon our English): sweeties. These are generally a holiday, or festive, or Sunday brunch preparation, mainly in Parma and Piacenza.

The ingredients are actually very simple. The pasta filling is usually fresh mozzarella, basil, garlic and pepper although you can add prosciutto and ricotto cheese as well. The sauce is also simple ripe tomatos, onions, butter, salt and pepper. The devil, if you will pardon the expression, is how you put it all together. Simple but requires technique and attention to detail. As they prepare to make their pasta, one more twist is thrown in. Leslie gets to decide who will use a wood roller to roll out pasta rather than a pasta machine. Talk about sending someone to old school tech! Leslie walks around and teases them with the roller. He hugs Ahran. Then he hands it to Daniel and takes the pasta maker away. He does not like Daniel much and the feeling is mutual. Daniel promises to be like Babe Ruth and targets Leslie calling him a !@#$%@. Thanks Daniel for showing how mature you are. The word JERK is now firmly applied like a scarlet letter on your forehead.

One person I knew would have a problem was Big Willie. He has never seen pasta like that before and probably not eaten at many Italian restaurants. I had a sinking feeling this could be it for him but never fear, the Scot is here. Scottish Francis that is who decided to use raw beet juice to color his pasta. Meanwhile Daniel is concocting some fantastic caramelle dish that will blow your socks off. Literally. Meanwhile The Cutter Zone looks like he is moving along just fine. Courtney reminds us she is a 3rd generation Italian so she knows how to make pasta. Jaimee is also of Italian heritage but puts her head down to make her interpretation of her father’s recipe.

Now what I think distinguishes the good from the bad in this competition is how they designed the dish. Those that stayed with the essential format did well while those who walked off the beaten path ended up in a bad place. Scottish Francis, never known for being conventional, decided on a weird concoction. He used raw beet juice to color his pasta to make them look like candy. But it was all over the place and turned out poorly for him. The time was not yet right for this recipe. Something popped into my head when that was said by Gordon. It reminded me of something Dumbledore said in one of the later Harry Potter stories. Something about a guy who thought the world was ready for a pot made of cheese. And this was not the time for Scottish Francis wonderland adventure in pasta making.

Big Willie did a dessert. A dessert! Gordon was not amused and upset that with all the ingredients available this is what he did. That is way off the beaten track heading towards the rabbit hole that Scottish Francis fell into. He can make the most wonderful home dishes but clearly when out of his comfort zone he does goofy things like this. Did he not learn from his previous mistakes? It appears not. He joins Francis in the bottom.

And then there is Daniel. This is the guy who promised to knock it out of the park. He is proud of his dish. And it is a smashing failure. It was all over the place with its salinity, acidity, and heat (habanero!). Joe recoils at the heat in his mouth. There is not much more to say here except that Leslie knew Daniel would over think his dish. And now Daniel is on the bottom with Big Willie and Francis-in-Wonderland. Hey if The Cutter Zone could produce a decent dish that got praised, you know something has turned for the worse with these guys.

The two winners though really showed how you make a simple dish exceptional. Jaimee did an interpretation of her father’s recipe. Joe thought it not only visually appealing, but a tribute to her father as well. It was quite touching and I bet her father was pleased at the compliment she got over the dish. Courtney was very good as well using fresh tomatos rather than canned. Joe loved the proportion in the filling and overall how good the dish was. Jaimee was the winner of the two but both are team captains next week.

Leslie was really hoping Daniel would be sent home. Alas it was not to be. Both he and Willie got a pass because Francis-in-Wonderland simply went too far. So he was sent home and the final ten are now confirmed. Ten left and the competition really kicks up now. No room for mistakes, intentional or otherwise. The merciless gaze of Sauron Joe Bastianich is on them now.

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