The other day I came across an expensive pot and a technique for making pasta that I had not heard of. You cook the pasta like risotto – sautéing it in a little olive oil and then adding liquid slowly, which it adsorbs as it cooks. The oil combines with the starch in the cooking water to make a thickened sauce, and the pasta adsorbs the flavors as it cooks. A quick, one pot meal, no hot boiling pasta water to throw away.
I can’t afford an Alain Ducasse pot, but I dug out a medium sized dutch oven.
I didn’t want to risk any expensive ingredients, so I made do with what we had on hand. The other day, Candy and I were waiting for Microcenter to open so we could look at netbooks and to kill time, we moseyed over to a Mexican Grocery store nearby. I bought a little packet of Mexican wagon wheel pasta – they have a whole slew of little shapes, all semolina pasta (high semolina content is important to keep the pasta from getting soggy), for thirty cents a bag. I also bought some Mexican cheese to go with it, and a can of chipotles.
I figured I’d use the technique of cooking pasta like risotto, but with a south-of-the-border twist. When looking at cooking stuff, it’s the techniques that you want to learn, not the recipes.
So I threw a little splash of olive oil into the dutch oven and cooked up some onion and garlic in it. For flavor I chopped in a chipotle pepper and its adobo sauce from the can. Be careful with this, I know from experience a small amount of chipotle adds a big kick. I dumped in the package of pasta and cooked it a bit. Then, in went a can of tomato sauce.
I cooked this for twenty minutes, slowly adding water as needed. I ended up adding right at two tomato sauce cans full of water. Stir it constantly, add it slowly, and be careful. If you don’t add enough water, it will burn on the bottom. If you add too much, the pasta will get mushy. This seems hard, but if you pay attention, it’s a piece of cake.
Right at the end of the twenty minutes I added some vegetables. One article suggested broccoli, and that would be good, but I have this big ol’ bag of frozen peas, carrots, and beans mixed… so I dumped about a cup and a half in. The article stresses out about how long to cook the broccoli – if I had been using fresh vegetables I would steam them a bit ahead of time and dump them in at the end – no problem. Since these were frozen, all I had to do is let them warm up.
Then, in with the cheese. I had bought the wrong kind of Mexican cheese and it didn’t melt. So I left the chunks in for protein and added some shredded mozzarella. That seems kind of a weird mixture, but it was delicious.
To serve, you plop the dutch oven down on the table on a trivet, and dig in. It’s sort of a one-pot meal, but a salad is nice along side.
So now I have a new technique for cooking pasta. The only downside is that you have to stand there stirring while it cooks, but it’s only twenty minutes. Pasta sauce is almost as much trouble by itself, and this way there’s no boiling water.
I like it.