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Serving Pasta? Forget What You Learned,New Recipies

LET me propose that you start cooking pasta in a way that might make you the laughingstock of your foodie friends: make more sauce, and serve it on top of less pasta. Do exactly what you’ve learned not to do.

Instead of a pound or half a kilo of pasta for two to four people, make a half, or even a third of a pound
(30 dkg) Instead of a cup or two of sauce, make it four cups, or more. Turn the proportions around.

What do you wind up with? Pasta more or less overwhelmed by sauce, which you can view as a cardinal sin or as a moist, flavorful one-dish meal of vegetables with the distinctive, lovable chewiness of pasta. (There is, of course, a tradition of this kind of pasta dish in Italy, but it falls more under the category of minestre, which is closer to soup.) It’s also an easy way to significantly increase your intake of vegetables without adding too many refined carbohydrates, and may, if you’ve abandoned it, get you back into pasta again.

Obviously this won’t work with every sauce — you don’t want to pull this trick with creamy or cheesy ones, or those based on meat — but it works with just about every vegetable you can think of, and with many fish preparations as well.

To understand why this may get you branded as a heretic, think back to the 1970s, when Americans needed even more help cooking than we do now.

Thanks to
Marcella Hazan ,Giuliano Bugialli and others, we discovered how to cook Italian food at home. And for the first time, many of us were venturing to Italy in search not only of Renaissance art and medieval villages but of the incredible cuisine.

What we found was exactly what Ms. Hazan had been telling us: Americans, even Italian-Americans, drowned their pasta. We poured on ladlefuls of thick tomato sauce and tossed two or three quarter-pound meatballs on top for good measure. We made the pasta itself irrelevant.

We also learned we overcooked it, undersalted the water and often used the wrong shape. But as much as I owe Ms. Hazan and her peers, for the first 20 years that I cooked pasta, I always felt as if I was about to be arrested for violating some canonical law.

In the old country, the sauce was used to barely moisten and flavor the pasta. There are a couple of possible explanations for this. One is that Italians were neat. “For centuries, most people ate pasta with their hands,” said Kevin Wells, who translated and annotated the 1570 cookbook “Opera dell’arte del cucinare” by Bartolomeo Scappi. Little or no sauce, he said, was “a matter of decorum.”

Another is that there were not always other options. Poor people dressed pasta with little or nothing,The legend says they used to hang a herring, and each member of the family would rub his or her slices of bread on it to get flavor.”

When some of those Italians immigrated to the United States they found a continent that was producing food like no continent before. they overused what they found both because they felt richer and could not use what they had at home.

“The consequences are the incredible distortions — to the Italian eye — of Italian-American cuisine,” he said. You want meat sauce, with meat on top? You’ve got it, in spades.

As the years went by, though, a kind of “if it’s Italian, it must be good” mentality developed here, and home cooks began enjoying pasta with a minimum of sauce. (We also began undercooking it, just to show that we could take al dente one ridiculous step further.)

But today, barely moistened pasta often doesn’t make sense. Even setting aside the extreme recommendations of the Atkins diet, it’s widely agreed that highly refined grains — a group that includes the semolina flour from which the best-tasting dry pasta is made — do us little nutritional good. From the point of view of the body, there’s little difference between pasta and white bread (and, for that matter, biscotti); neither has much in the way of protein, vitamins, micronutrients or fiber, and all are digested quickly and may ultimately be stored as fat.

I am not suggesting that we return to oversauced baked ziti with sausages, mozzarella-laden lasagna or spaghetti under three handball-size meatballs. Rather, I’m recommending that we exploit our astonishing supply of vegetables (still evident at this time of year), augmented if you like with a bit of meat for seasoning.

There are recipes here, but many people won’t need them. The other day, I arrived at a friend’s house in time to cook lunch. We had chickpeas, broccoli rabe and garden tomatoes. I parboiled the broccoli rabe, just until it became bright green; I then chopped and sautéed it in olive oil with garlic, dried chili flakes and a couple of cups of chickpeas. I added two or three chopped tomatoes. Meanwhile, I half-cooked about a third of a box of farfalle (undoubtedly a more legitimate cook would tell me I was using the “wrong” shape) in the water I had used for the greens.

When the tomatoes broke down and the broccoli rabe was tender, I dumped in the drained pasta, after saving some cooking water. I added a little of the liquid and simmered the mixture until the pasta was done. I garnished it with basil and a little more olive oil. Although it was not soupy, we used spoons because the broth was so good. Total working time was about half an hour, and a better one-dish lunch I could not imagine.

I’ve been playing with this style of pasta for months: a load of briefly sautéed spinach with garlic, raisins, pine nuts and a bit of stock; well-roasted mixed vegetables, mashed or puréed, with lots of olive oil; braised endive and onion; bok choy with black beans and soy sauce (with fresh Chinese egg noodles, naturally). The list is long.

Give it a shot. There is no downside — except maybe a bit of mockery from the pasta police (who I’m sure will arrive, in my case, later this morning).
Pasta With Chickpeas, Chorizo or Spicy Kielbasa and Bread Crumbs
Salt and black pepper
to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1/4 pound cooked Spanish chorizo or kielbasa, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
4 cups cooked chickpeas, with their liquid
1/2 pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne (even smaller cut pasta is good here)
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish.
1. Set a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add chorizo; heat, stirring occasionally, until chorizo is lightly browned, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and then the garlic; cook until it colors lightly, then add bread crumbs. Toast, shaking skillet frequently, until bread crumbs turn golden brown, about 10 minutes; if necessary, add a little more olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and remove to a bowl.
2. Add 2 more tablespoons olive oil to skillet and, over medium heat, chickpeas and about 1 cup of their liquid. Cook pasta until it is nearly but not quite tender; drain, then add it to chickpeas. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender; stir in chorizo, heat through, and taste and adjust seasoning.
3. Serve chickpea-pasta mixture in bowls, garnished with crisp bread crumbs and a sprinkling of parsley.
Yield: 4 servings.
Pasta With Pumpkin and Tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 to 2 pounds peeled, cubed or shredded pumpkin, about 5 cups
1/2 pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne
Freshly chopped parsley or Parmesan for garnish.
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, shallots and pepper flakes and cook for about a minute; add tomatoes and squash, and cook with some salt and pepper.
2. When squash is tender — about 10 minutes for shreds, 15 or so for small cubes — cook pasta until it is tender. Combine sauce and pasta, and serve, garnished with parsley or Parmesan.
Yield: 4 servings.
Zucchini Pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 or 6 medium zucchini, rinsed, trimmed and cut into ribbons or coins
1 large onion, chopped
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
2 tomatoes, in wedges or roughly chopped, with their juice
1/2 pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne
Freshly grated Parmesan or freshly chopped parsley for garnish.
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper and adjust heat so onion and zucchini release their liquid without browning. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until very tender.
2. Add tomatoes and their liquid to zucchini and raise heat a bit so mixture bubbles. Cook pasta until it is nearly but not quite tender. If sauce threatens to dry out, add a little pasta cooking water.
3. Drain pasta and finish cooking it in sauce. Serve, garnished with parsley or Parmesan.
Yield: 4 servings.

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