Friday, October 26, 2012

My First Decent Pasta

I've been trying to make pasta for years, always failing miserably. I asked for help on Chowhound once, but everyone kept trying to iron out all my weirdo kinks. My goal wasn't to make restaurant-style pasta (see my explanation of why I never try to cook restaurant food at home), or even Italian-style pasta. I had a vision, but couldn't seem to execute it.

Finally, my friend Paul Trapani helped me see where I was going wrong. I was trying to cook pasta the way I cook rice dishes, and that doesn't work. Paul explained that pasta is much blander than rice, so if you don't zing it up with lots of salt and oil, it's always going to taste flat. And for god's sake, he urged, stop using all those vegetables ("what are you making, soup??").

I don't cook with much salt or oil. That's an uncrossable line. And I'll stick with the veggies, too. But, as I've noted several times, just because you don't like the solutions people are offering doesn't mean there isn't a problem. So I've been working at it, and have finally achieved the pasta I'd been imagining.

Chop half an onion and a clove or two of garlic, and finely slice two carrots. Season generously with garam masala (available from Penzey's) and black pepper, and sauté in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil at medium low heat.

After a couple of minutes, add some chopped broccolini. Add just a bit of stock, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until vegetables are al dente.

Remove vegetables, sauté scallops in a bit more extra virgin olive oil, seasoning both sides with garam masala, until golden.

Remove scallops. Deglaze pan with stock, apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon of maple syrup (to balance the vinegar and bring out the caramelized onion flavor; don't worry, it won't be too sweet), and a teaspoon of soy sauce. Cook until liquid is reduced.

Reduce heat, stir in a generous handful of fresh spinach, al dente rigatoni (I used Pasta Di Martino), and vegetables. Serve with scallops atop.

This recipe (which serves two) is essentially no-salt, containing 150 mg of sodium per serving - less than the sodium in a half pound of unprocessed chicken breast. But between the acidity of the vinegar and the fullness of the garam masala, you could win bets with this. Anyone would swear it was normally salted.

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