Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A simple, but delicious pasta meal!

“Making a good spaghetti meal takes more effort than just dumping, boiling and hoping for the best. You need to use a little common sense and have lots of practice!”

In years past, I've made pasta that ran the gauntlet all the way from al dente (good) to mush (really bad). I quickly learned that mushy spaghetti was not the way to go and so came up with a tried and true format that I thought to share here:

Cooking the pasta
  1. Make sure you are using the best pasta you can afford. I prefer Barilla brand pasta which can be purchased at as well as from other outlets. The package shows the time it takes for the pasta to cook to 'al dente' and is spot on.
  2. For a dinner for two, you'd want about a 1/2 pound of dry pasta, 2 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons of salt. Also, make sure that the pot you are using has a fairly thick bottom (to prevent burning) and enough water is added to cover the pasta by at least 1.5 inches. Add the salt to the water and then wait for the water in the pot to come to a rolling boil before adding the pasta.
  3. Just after adding the pasta, use a pasta utensil to stir the pasta so as to prevent it from sticking. Repeat this stirring all through the cooking cycle and you will be on the road to success.
  4. Barilla spaghetti will cook in 10 to 11 minutes. However, different pots and ranges can change the time scale somewhat. Therefore, you might want to begin taste testing the spaghetti after just eight minutes or so, and then about every minute until it reaches a texture that is satisfying to you the cook.
  5. Once the pasts is done, remove it immediately from the heat and strain it in a colander. (If your making the sauce I've outlined below, reserve a small amount of the pasta water on the side). Please don't  rinse the pasta as this will wash off the starch which is what helps the sauce adhere to the pasta. (Note that if some time will pass before serving, you can remove your pasta a couple of minutes before its done; strain it, add a little spray of cooking oil, cover and let the cooking cycle 'carry over' to a perfect al dente state).
A simple pasta sauce
When I make the sauce, I try and keep things pretty simple. I like to sauté some diced onions, a little dried basil, mushrooms and garlic in a pan with a just a little bit of olive oil until the onion has sweated and then will add a half a 4 oz can of tomato paste to the pan. I let that cook in the pan for a bit, stirring everything with a wooden spoon. I then would add a little bit of white wine (since tomatoes have a lot of alcohol soluble flavors which are enhanced in the presence of alcohol) and then some of the reserved pasta water. I then allow the sauce to simmer to the consistency that I'm looking for, at which point, I add the sauce directly into the pot with the drained pasta and stirring everything up thoroughly. This meal is then served immediately!
Note: Mastering the precise quantities and cooking time will take a bit of trial and error, but in the end you will have a great tasting sauce that is actually much cheaper than anything you can purchase at a store.
When serving this dish, it's great if you include some sliced garlic bread along with a glass of red wine. Enjoy!
 A final note: One of the source books that has inspired me to be creative with food was written by Anthony Bourdain and is titled 'Kitchen Confidential'. A three-star concoction that is the collaborative effort of a team of "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths,".

Chef at New York's Les Halles and author of 'Bone in the Throat', Bourdain pulls no punches in this memoir of his years in the restaurant business. His fast-lane personality and glee in recounting sophomoric kitchen pranks might be unbearable were it not for two things: Bourdain is as unsparingly acerbic with himself as he is with others, and he exhibits a sincere and profound love of good food. One of the best books I've read in a long time!

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