self-saucing pasta…a game changing technique

YSTcooking_0593I am forever in pursuit of recipes that allow me and you to get from-scratch, healthy food onto the table fast with minimal cleaning up. And this technique ticks all those boxes.

I am, clearly, a pretty compulsive cook.  But I am far from being a domestic goddess as I hate cleaning up.  In my dream life I’d cook and tinker for hours then I’d waft into another room for a cocktail while someone comes and cleans up all my mess.  I think this is what it must be like to be Nigella or Gwyneth.  If you know otherwise please don’t shatter my dreams. Anyway, until I am able to employ a team of housekeepers, I attempt to twiddle with every recipe I find to reduce the number of pots and pans I need to dirty.

I’ve seen a few one-pan pasta dishes pop up over the years but had never really got excited about them.  But then, as I was writing my new pasta class I thought I should include at least one recipe that didn’t require pasta and sauce to be prepared separately. Especially because I now live in the land of boxed mac and cheese and, as a foreigner, still don’t really get why everyone loves it so.  If I can offer up an alternative to that box of orangeness that I know so many people love then I will be happy.

Once I started experimenting my mind was blown and I ended up with more recipes than I could fit into my class.  Because here’s the thing, when you cook pasta and sauce together everyone is a winner – the pasta sucks the flavour of the sauce right through to its core and, in return, the sauce is made silky and is thickened by the starch that is released from the pasta as it cooks.

The principle is simple and is very similar to risotto.  Put your pasta into a large pan with some liquid and some flavour then simmer it until the pasta is cooked and the sauce is the right thickness.  The thing is, the liquid needs to be more interesting than just water.  Mix your water with wine, stock, broth, milk or tomatoes.  Or use water plus some big flavoured ingredients like olives, anchovies, mushrooms, tomatoes, spices. You just want to make sure that the total amount of liquid is enough to cook the pasta and be absorbed without leaving a ton of liquid left in the pan. As a rule of thumb, for 4 people I would use 340g pasta and 1175ml liquid (all water plus flavours or 50% water 50% wine/broth/tomatoes).

Then the world is your oyster, you can add veggies, herbs, spices and any protein you fancy, I often get inspiration from risotto flavour combinations.  The recipe for below is for a chickpea [garbanzo] pasta.  I love it because it is a scrumptious, vegetarian, protein packed dinner and it is done and dusted in less than 15 minutes.  Children love it, as the beans cook down to a silky houmus-like sauce so it is creamy like the aforementioned mac and cheese.  Feel free to play around with the flavours.  If you feel you’d like more greens, add some frozen peas or spinach at the end.  Add some shredded chicken at the end if a vegetarian dinner makes you nervous.

What is really important is to twiddle with the flavours at the end.  The hit of acid from the red wine vinegar is essential.  It freshens everything up and rounds out the flavours perfectly.  Taste it, add more salt, chili, red wine vinegar and cheese until you get to the point of perfection.

Once you’ve tried this recipe, try a tomato version.  Use a combination of passata (pureed tomato) and water with rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper and chili.  Then just before serving, stir through some greens and cheese, shredded chicken or canned tuna. I’ve also made this recipe for a chorizo stew with pasta cooked in the sauce and it was delish – just increase the liquid in the stew recipe by adding more water.

Ingredients:

340g [12oz] pasta shapes – either penne or orecchiette. Brown rice pasta works great and is what I use most of the time

1175ml [5 cups] boiling water

1 can chickpeas, drained

around 20 pitted Kalamata olives (I buy the Trader Joes ones in olive oil)

2 tablespoons tomato paste (or puree)

3 cloves garlic, sliced

a 6 inch sprig of rosemary

2 tablespoons olive oil

red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste

40g [half a cup or 1.5oz] grated Parmesan cheese

60g [2 cups] rocket [arugula]

1 Parmesan rind

red wine vinegar to taste

Optional – a cup of frozen peas or frozen spinach added a few minutes before the pasta is cooked

To make:

  1. Combine the pasta, chickpeas, olives, Parmesan rind, tomato paste, garlic, rosemary, oil, a pinch of pepper flakes, a pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper and 5 cups of water in a large saucepan or Le Creuset.  Put a lid on the pan.

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  1. Bring to a boil and cook on a medium heat, stirring every 2 minutes until the pasta is al-dente and the liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce. This should take between 12 to 15 minutes depending on the shape and type of pasta you are using.  If, after 10 minutes it is still looking very liquid, take the lid off the pan so that some liquid can evaporate.  If it is drying out too much and the pasta isn’t yet cooked, add a little more water.
  2. Remove pan from the heat, discard the rosemary and stir in the grated cheese.
  3. Add a little more water until the sauce is loose enough
  4. Taste and adjust the salt, pepper and chili. Add red wine vinegar to freshen the flavors then stir through the rocket [arugula]. The heat of the pasta will wilt the arugula
  5. Serve immediately with a green salad. If re-heating, you will need to add a little more water as the pasta will continue to soak in the liquid and dry out over time. You can also add a few extra cups of water and make it more soupy

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