Rosie Hawthorne’s Recipes: Oh, the pastabilities

By on September 11, 2017

I’ve made my own pasta for years. I don’t like boxed pasta. It tastes like the box. It’s amazing how four simple ingredients — flour, water, eggs, and salt — can somehow combine at home and then at a factory and produce two entirely different results.

That said, let me introduce you to the artisan pastas offered at The Fresh Market.

Imported Italian pasta is vastly superior to domestic pasta. One is able to cook the imported pasta to that perfect degree of toothy tenderness — al dente. In addition, their imported pasta swells considerably, meaning it will go farther, pound for pound, than domestic, American-made pasta. Plus, there’s the flavor.

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When you cook pasta, if you’ve been straining it into a colander and letting the pasta water go down the drain, then you’ve been doing it wrong. Stop immediately! Let me offer one caveat — save that liquid gold.

When you cook your pasta, stop just short of al dente. Add a bit of the pasta liquid into whatever butter or oil that’s lurking in the pan in which you’ve made your sauce and in which you’ll be finishing off your pasta and it will combine luxuriously to create a silky, smooth emulsification.

Toss your barely al dente pasta with the pasta water-enriched sauce and cook for a minute or two. The starch in the water allows the pasta to absorb the sauce as it finishes cooking, infusing the pasta with flavor. It’s a beautiful marriage between the noodles and sauce — a sauce that your pasta will eat up.

Fresh Market offers a line of artisan pasta from Umbria, Italy, which I heartily recommend. Their pasta is the closest to homemade that I’ve found.

In the manufacturing process, the pasta is extruded through bronze dies, as opposed to the modern, faster, and cheaper method of using slick Teflon plates. Bronze die-cut pasta produces a pasta with a more textured, rougher finish, making the pasta superior at gripping the sauce. Their pasta is also very slowly dried, again resulting in a coarser surface to which the sauce can better adhere.

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Now, a word about the geometry of pastas. Dried pasta offerings can be bewildering. What particular form of pasta should you use? You have your linguini and spaghetti (ribbons and strings), your rotini (corkscrews), your orecchiette (little ears), your shells (conchiglie), your farfalle (bow ties), and, among many others and my personal favorite, your strozzapreti (priest stranglers).

Generally, the particular pasta is paired with a certain sauce. Delicate pastas pair with delicate sauces, whereas heartier noodles require a heartier sauce. With all the different shapes, experiment for that perfect liaison of pasta and sauce.

I have three artisan pasta dishes for your gustatory pleasure — torcetti with mushroom cream sauce, linguini and clams, and a penne rigata ragu. Please enjoy!

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Torcetti Pasta With Mushroom Cream Sauce
1 heaping cup (4 oz.) torcetti pasta (Torcetti means “twisted.”)
1 qt. water
1 ½ tsp kosher salt

For the pasta:
Bring water to a boil. Add in salt and pasta. Cook 8-10 minutes, until barely al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.

Note: It is unnecessary to add oil to your pasta water, thinking it will keep the pasta from sticking. Simply stir the pasta occasionally. Adding oil only serves to keep the sauce from sticking to the pasta.

For the sauce:
3 TB unsalted butter
1 tsp peanut oil
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms (or other earthy mushrooms from the produce department at Fresh Market), sliced, stems discarded (I freeze the stems to use later in my homemade stocks.)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup dry sherry
1 cup cream
½ cup pasta water
1 – 2 TB fresh thyme leaves
1 – 2 TB fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano plus extra for sprinkling (I used Latteria Soresina from Fresh Market.)

Melt butter with oil over medium heat. Let the shiitake hit the pan and sauté the mushrooms, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add shallots, then garlic, and sauté for another minute or so. Add a big splash of sherry, off heat. Return to heat and stir until the sherry evaporates, then add in a tablespoon of thyme leaves and the cream. Lower heat and let barely simmer for about 5 minutes until it thickens. Add the pasta water and cook at a bare simmer for another 2 minutes. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes at a bare simmer, allowing the pasta to absorb the flavors. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Serve pasta with an additional sprinkling of thyme, the parsley, and Parmesan cheese.

My next pasta offering for you is linguini and clams.

Linguini and Clams
2 qts. water
8 oz. linguini
1 tsp kosher salt
Bring water to a boil. Add salt and pasta and cook pasta according to directions – about 8-9 minutes or until just shy of al dente. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce.
Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid for the sauce.

Extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup Sauvignon Blanc
2 dozen littleneck clams (from the seafood department at Fresh Market)
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, juiced, and chopped
4 TB unsalted butter
2 TB chopped parsley
Lemon zest
Freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet, film the bottom of the pan with extra virgin olive oil. Over medium heat, add shallot, and pepper flakes. Cook about 1 minute then add in garlic and cook about 30 seconds, being sure you don’t brown the garlic. (It gets bitter.) Pour in the wine off heat, add the clams, cover, and cook for about 8 minutes, or until clams open.

In pan over medium low heat, bring reserved pasta water to a simmer. Whisk in butter a tablespoon at a time, until it’s completely melted and incorporated before adding more. Return pasta to pan, tossing to coat, adding more pasta liquid if needed.

Add clam mixture and chopped tomato. Heat through and serve. Top individual servings with parsley, lemon zest, and freshly ground pepper.

Any discussion about pasta is not complete without mentioning a red sauce — a marinara sauce — named, supposedly, for sailors (maranai) centuries ago. The ingredients for the sauce traveled well and could be cooked quickly and easily in the same time it took the pasta to cook. The pasta and sauce made a filling and available meal for men at sea, hence the name “marinara.”

Marinara sauce is one of the world’s great sauces. And it’s so simple — tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs. This is a sauce that plays well with others. It can be used as a cornerstone for other sauces. Add red pepper flakes and you have a spicy, “angry,” arrabbiata sauce. Add anchovies and you have a beckoning puttanesca sauce. Add meat and you have a hearty Bolognese sauce. Then there are always the welcome additions of red wine, capers, olives, peppers, mushrooms, sausage, meatballs, and cheese that take the basic sauce to higher levels.

I’m going with a simple tomato sauce from tomatoes I picked from my garden. I started out with 2 ½ pounds garden-fresh tomatoes and after trimming the ends and peeling, I ended up with 28 ounces — convenient since canned tomatoes come in 28 oz. cans.

Rosie’s Tomato Sauce
2 ½ pounds fresh tomatoes or 1 28 oz. can

If you’re making this sauce during the winter when tomatoes are not in season, don’t even bother with store-bought tomatoes. Use canned. Fresh Market offers Muir Glen, Cento, Rao, and Pastene brands of canned tomatoes, all of which are highly rated.

To prepare fresh tomatoes, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and, working in batches, drop tomatoes into boiling water. Leave for about a minute and then transfer to a colander to cool. Trim off the stem end and squeeze the tomatoes out of their skin and into a sauce pan. Immersion blend tomatoes until you have a smooth purée, or you can use a processor.

Set sauce over low heat and let tomatoes barely simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced by about a third. I dip a skewer into the pot and mark the level. It takes about an hour.

Next, season the sauce. Start out with half of each seasoning and taste test as you go along.

1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
¼ – ½ tsp freshly ground pepper

Continue over low heat at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally until the sauce is reduced by half of the original volume. I go by consistency. When you draw a spoon through the sauce, it should leave a trail. Entire simmer time is about 1 ½ hours. You should end up with two cups of delicious red sauce.

My last dish is a hearty offering of pasta with my fresh marinara sauce, fresh fennel from Fresh Market’s produce department, and prosciutto, and pancetta from their deli department.

Rosie’s Rigate Ragu
½ cup minced fennel bulb
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup pancetta, chopped
⅓ cup prosciutto, chopped
½ cup red wine
2 cups fresh tomato sauce
4 oz. penne rigate (1 heaping cup full)
Fennel fronds
Parmesan cheese, grated
(I used Latteria Soresina Parmigiano Reggiano from Fresh Market’s cheese department.)

In a large skillet, sauté the diced prosciutto and pancetta over medium low heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add in the fennel and onion and sauté for about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. You do not want to brown or overcook the garlic – it gets bitter and will ruin your dish. Turn heat to medium high and pour in red wine, away from heat, scraping up any goodie bits (That’s the flavor!) from the bottom, cooking about 30 seconds until wine evaporates. Turn heat to low and add in tomato sauce. Heat through.

Bring 1 quart of water with 1 tsp of kosher salt to a full rolling boil and add in penne rigate. Cook about 9 minutes, until barely al dente. Drain pasta, retaining the pasta water.

Add drained pasta to the tomato sauce. Add a cup of the cooking liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, to the sauce. Cook over low heat at a bare simmer for 5 minutes or so. I know it looks like a lot of sauce, but the pasta will absorb the sauce in a most delicious way. It sounds counter-intuitive, but adding the pasta cooking liquid will thicken your sauce. At first it will thin out, but then it will thicken as the starchy liquid is absorbed, giving your sauce extra body and a creamy mouthfeel.

Serve pasta with scattered fennel fronds and grated Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy and buon appetito!

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