Archive for July 29, 2009

The truth comes out

[Recipe: Penne with Artichokes and Tomato Sauce]

Sometimes, you just have to question authority. Take, for example, the seemingly set-in-stone instructions for boiling pasta.

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Turns out those cooking directions on the pasta package could use a “green” rewrite. The 4 to 6 recommended quarts per pound of pasta? There’s a gratuitous, wasted couple of quarts in there, according to a some recent experiments (one in The New York Times and the other at Ideal Bite).

I can’t claim to ever having measured my pasta cooking water, quart by quart (I’m not a lazy cook, but I do like to play fast and loose with measurements). I’m guessing I’ve used less than those directions request all along. But what I hadn’t tried was this tip: Place the pasta in cold water before bringing it to a boil.

It’s a method that I imagine would make my Italian grandmother clasp her hand to her heart and suck air faster than I can burn garlic (ok, so as both my grandmothers are Idahoan, no family rifts will result from such blasphemy).

It worked for me, and now I’m game to boldly experiment with the lid cooking method next time: Bring the reduced amount of water to a boil with the pasta, place a tight lid on top of the pot, turn off the stove, and wait for the recommended cooking time.

Then be sure to use a ladle or two of the silky, starchy cooking water in a sauce. You can check both “Make dinner” and “Engage in some planet-saving activity” off your list.

Penne with Artichokes and Tomato Sauce

When we lived on the East Coast, we used to visit Three Tomatoes Trattoria on Burlington’s Church Street on a regular basis. My favorite pasta was a pan-fried artichoke dish, and this is (very loosely) based on my memories of that.

1/2 lb whole wheat penne pasta
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small, or 1/2 large, red onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can or 1 pkg frozen artichoke hearts
2 portobello mushroom caps, stems and gills removed, then quartered and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 C red wine or Fre
1 jar tomato-based, meatless pasta sauce (a slightly spicy arrabiata, or another that contains roasted red peppers, is your most flavorful bet; and if you’re not in a pinch, make your own)
Freshly grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta. In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the onion until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the artichoke hearts and mushrooms, along with salt and pepper, raise the heat to medium high, and stir frequently. When the vegetables have browned (another 5 minutes or so), add the wine and continue to stir. When wine has been absorbed, pour in the tomato sauce and turn the heat to medium low. When the sauce is thoroughly warmed, toss the cooked pasta in with the sauce. Transfer to serving bowls and top with grated Parmesan.

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