By Rosie Hawthorne on May 6, 2021
Sometimes you just need pasta. It’s light. It’s filling. It’s comforting. And we could all use some comfort right now. With a little imagination and inspiration, you can incorporate your own additions to make a delectable and flavorsome lunch or dinner. And if you have a home garden, fresh vegetables are perfect for springtime pastas.
I have three pasta “recipes” which will give you the basics, then you can take it from there. I wouldn’t really call them recipes. Let’s call them “starting points.” They all lend themselves to adjustments and variations.
There is one technique, however, that is common to all these pasta dishes and that’s the use of pasta water in the sauce. When you drain your pasta, don’t pour that salty, starchy, cloudy cooking water down the sink. Scoop the pasta out and save some pasta water for your sauce. When pasta cooks, it releases starch into the water. The starchy pasta water enhances flavor and helps to thicken and enrich the sauce. In addition, it binds the pasta and sauce together, giving you a more cohesive sauce that clings to your pasta, like an emulsified vinaigrette clings to salad greens. Using pasta water gives you a luxuriously smooth, silky, creamy sauce. To take this a step further, try undercooking your pasta just a tad – just short of al dente – then adding it in with the pasta water-enriched sauce to finish cooking. This allows the pasta to absorb the sauce as it finishes cooking, infusing the pasta with flavor.
For my first pasta dish, I started out thinking about mac and cheese and ended up with an adult version of this classic. I threw out the macaroni and used rigatoni instead, added in some spinach because I like it, and gave it a triple dose of cheese.
Place the spinach in a medium bowl and sprinkle with a swirl of olive oil, a shake of kosher salt, and a grind or two of pepper. Give the spinach a bit of a massage to wilt it, then set aside.
Heat oven to 450° and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in the salted water about 2 minutes shy of recommended cook time. You want it barely al dente. Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water.
In skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add scallions and sauté for a minute. Add add garlic and stir another minute, then add cream cheese with a pinch of kosher salt. Squish cream cheese around with a wooden spatula to break it up, then pour in reserved pasta water, stirring until smooth. Stir in spinach, half the mozzarella, half the feta, and the pasta until combined. Taste test and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Pour mixture into a buttered 8-inch square baking dish and top with remaining mozzarella and feta. Bake in a 450° oven about 12 minutes or until sauce is nice and thick and bubbly and the top is starting to brown.
My second pasta dish uses asparagus from my garden and two different types of pasta – farfalle and ruffles (just because I had close-to-empty boxes of both), but you can choose whatever you have on hand.
2-3 cups pasta (farfalle, ruffles, or rotini)
1 dozen or so spears of asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
Cook pasta according to box directions. Add asparagus to the cooking pasta about
2 ½ minutes before the pasta is done. You want the pasta al dente and the asparagus crisp/tender.
While the pasta was cooking, I made a quick cream sauce.
In a small sauce pan, melt butter over low heat. Add in minced garlic and cook, stirring for a minute. Add in flour and whisk for another minute. Slowly pour in reserved pasta water and increase heat to medium. Whisk constantly. Mixture will thicken. Slowly whisk in heavy cream. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and let cheese melt. Stir until smooth. Pour over drained pasta and asparagus and toss to coat. Add extra grated Parmesan and chopped parsley to servings.
Last, I have a shrimp and fettuccini dish with fresh vegetables, accented with lemon zest and parsley.
About 8 oz. fettuccini, cooked al dente, saving the water
Cook the fettuccini in salted water according to package directions.
In a skillet over medium, heat up a splash of olive oil. Lightly sauté the onion, peppers, and tomatoes, then add in the spinach, cream, tomato sauce, and ¼ cup reserved pasta water. Heat through. Add in shrimp and cook about 2 minutes, until shrimp is just done. Add cooked fettuccini. Serve with grated lemon zest and chopped parsley.
For any culinary questions, feel free to e-mail me at RosieHawthorne@gmail.com. Bon appétit! For more Rosie’s Recipes on the Outer Banks Voice click here