Today: A simple pantry staple gets even simpler.
We didn't need pasta to get any simpler. But here it is: asking even less of our attention, patience, and time; dropping steps; and getting even better as a result, and we certainly aren't going to complain.
Because there were still a couple things slowing us down in pursuit of our favorite weeknight meal: waiting for a big pot of water to boil, and constructing a sauce of some kind.
This pasta dispenses with both. It cooks entirely in one pan (without boiling water first) and makes its own sauce, all in about 9 minutes.
How? You pile dry pasta, a measured amount of water, and a few flavoring agents into a skillet, then boil the liquid away. The ratios are perfect for cooking the pasta and sauce at once, without risking too-soft (or too-crunchy) noodles, or leaving a watery puddle behind.
The only thing you need to remember to do is futz with the pasta now and again with tongs or a fork, to keep it from cooking into a brick of linguine.
This recipe was first published in Martha Stewart Living in June of last year, after some savvy member of their team spotted a chef using the method in a small town in Puglia. The technique made the rounds in the blogosphere and has inspired a number of spinoffs, some of which have gone beyond pasta, like Deb Perelman's farro riff.
So the method has shaved time, BTUs, and dirty dishes from our pasta cooking experience, but it comes with a number of other compelling benefits, too. For one thing, because you're cooking the pasta directly in ingredients that quickly condense into a sauce, the flavors absorb into the noodles as they cook, rather than just sitting on top.
At the same time, the pasta is giving off starch, thickening the sauce and making it creamy, despite being entirely vegan (minus the finish of Parmesan cheese). You don't need to remember to reserve a cup of pasta water (or know what to do with it).
Though it only cooks for 9 minutes, the sauce is intensely flavored with not just fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic, but a sweet-savory backbone of cooked onion too -- which we needn't sauté in oil first, as we always do. Here, its effect is more like a concentrated stock or soup, and not dissimilar to our other favorite pasta sauce, Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce simmered with butter and an onion.
This can be your pantry meal for the rest of the summer, but don't stop there. Take these basic proportions and swap in canned tomatoes, or any number of other ingredients you have on hand. Try crushed green olives or capers, peppers or prosciutto or a chopped up bunch of greens. Fortify the liquid with stock, or wine, or Parmesan rinds. One-pan pasta is too good to limit to a single recipe, or season.
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Living (June 2013)
12 ounces linguine
12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
Coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 1/2 cups water
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected] Thank you to Brette Warshaw, juliana, and Kate Bagshaw for this one!
The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.
Photos by James Ransom