Lately there's been a recurring question at my stands around the city: People are having problems with their pasta. I get complaints of oily pasta, puddles of watery sauce and bland concoctions. Couples approach me to settle disputes about generations of pasta practices: What is al dente? To rinse or not to rinse? Somehow I feel like I've become the judge, jury and executioner of the collective noodle.
Forms of pasta have been around for millennia, so there's bound to be some stigma, wive's tales, various voodoo and placebo affects woven into its history. I wouldn't dare dispute your grandma, so I'm just going to tell you what I do do . . . . because I think it works just fine. If I don't mention it here, I don't do it.
I love to eat this simple pasta, but the object of this recipe is to gain a firm understanding of pasta with a sauce; to learn how to achieve that flavorful rich emulsion that sticks perfectly to the noodle. For that reason, I keep this recipe very general, use whatever pasta you like with whatever cheese you like. Parmesan is typical, but you could use pecorino or a cave aged Gouda. The simplicity leaves your options open.
Simple Pasta for Four
1 lb. Pasta (fresh or dry)
2 cups Chicken Stock (low sodium)
½ cup Aged salty cheese, grated
2 tbsps Butter, cut into little chunks
2 tbsps Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1. In a deep pot bring at least a gallon of salted water to a boil over high heat. (1 tsp of salt to every qt.)
2. Once you reach a rolling boil, drop in the pasta and stir immediately, continue to stir every 30 seconds or so for the first three minutes. It's these first minutes when the pasta will bind together, so keep it moving.
3. In a large skillet bring the chicken stock to a boil and reduce by about half. (Ideally it is reduced about the time the pasta is ready to go)
4. Once cooked to your liking, strain the pasta. Add it to the simmering stock.
5. Working over medium high heat, add the butter, olive oil, and cheese; season with salt and pepper. Moving the pan in a circular motion, use tongs to stir the pasta briskly. (you can pick the pan up and toss it if you're comfy with that.) Good movement is imperative to mixing the stock and the fat (butter and oil) into a sauce while melting the cheese.
To test for the right viscosity, pull the noodles aside, the liquid should go with it. If it leaves a pool, cook it down a little longer. 6. This is where the learning curve comes in. You have to taste and adjust your sauce. If it's not saucy enough, add more stock, if it's too saucy allow it to cook down a little longer over the flame. If it needs salt, give it a pinch or reach for some more cheese. The final product is ideally moist but not runny.
There you have it, a delicious simple pasta sauce. It's a versatile base. If you're going to give this a shot, know that you can fold in any combination of extras at the end.
- Pine nuts, chili flakes, sautéed broccoli rabe
- Sautéed mushrooms and thyme
- Roasted cauliflower, lemon zest, hazelnuts, raisins and capers
- My personal favorite- Fresh wild arugula and lots of black pepper