How To Cook Pasta Like a Chef
Firstly, let me say that this post is not about pasta in general, nor is it about a specific recipe; it is more about how to cook in a specific style with just a few ingredients. And by this I mean cooking aglio e olio--or, with garlic and oil--which of course refers to the ingredients but also the style in which it is cooked.
Besides classic pasta with tomato sauce this is my other all-time favorite. The beauty of this is that it can transform nearly any vegetable into a really delicious and healthy pasta dish. This is so delicious no vegetables are actually needed (but they do make for a complete meal); actually the classic recipe for this is made simply with pasta alone. I've posted on this basic subject in the past and on numerous occasions, click here for additional recipes, directions, and pictures.
Anyhow, in addition to the garlic and oil--which are requirements--I also include hot peppers, onion, and broth (brodo). All of these are options--especially the broth in the event you'd like to keep the meal vegetarian--but the broth really adds a fullness to the dish and flavors the pasta...but more on that in a minute.
What, I think, is just as important about this dish as the ingredients is how it is made, and by this I mean these simple but important steps. Begin by placing the oil, onion, and garlic in a cold pan. This is a really unorthodox approach to professional cooking. For most chefs--myself included--the pan can not be hot enough. But in this instance starting the recipe in a cold pan is crucial...it slowly leaches the flavors of the onion, garlic, and chilies into the oil before they brown, creating a sort of sofrito. Another step is to under cook the pasta slightly (al dente) and to add broth the the dish which you then boil vigorously. By cooking the broth quickly it evaporates and concentrates it's flavor (along with the flavors of the other ingredients). And when you add the al dente pasta to the thin pool of broth it not only finishes cooking but also absorbs these concentrated flavors as well.
This may sound a bit more complicated that it is, but it's not complicated at all. In a restaurant this will cost you a few dollars, at your home it will cost a little enjoyable time and a few pennies. Follow these simple steps and you can turn nearly whatever vegetables you have in the fridge into something really nourishing and wonderful. This is, after all, what a chef often does...turns something from their fridge (or walk-in cooler) into something really wonderful from often basic ingredients. Here it is in pictures; a recipe follows.
Spaghetti with Broccoli, Cauliflower, Garlic, Oil, and Broth
Makes 2 servings
6 ounces whole wheat spaghetti (171g)
3 tablespoons olive oil (1.5fl oz/40ml)
1 small onion, diced (½ cup/2oz/57g)
2 cloves garlic, minced (.3oz/9g)
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 cups cauliflower florets, sliced (6oz/171g)
2 cups broccoli florets, sliced (4oz/114g)
1 cup chicken broth (8fl oz/240ml)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (.8oz/23g)
Bring a pot of water to a boil, cook the pasta al dente, then drain it and set aside. In a large skillet, combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, and hot peppers; then turn the burner on high. Cook this for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the onion and garlic are translucent but not browned, then add the cauliflower. Cook the cauliflower—tossing and turning it frequently—until it just starts to brown, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add the broccoli, turn it in the oil and seasonings, then add the chicken broth and salt. Bring the broth to a boil and cook it for a few minutes or until it reduces by half, turning the vegetables frequently. Add the slightly under-cooked pasta to the pan, gently turning it in the vegetables, seasonings, and broth. Cook the pasta for a a couple of minutes, until most of the liquid has absorbed into it. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese.