other night I was experimenting with pasta. I had a few cloves of choped garlic and one choped dry tomato, slowly frying in about 3 table spoons of olive oil (aglio olio style). Next I've put some of the tomato paste into the pan to fry off a bit at first and then I added about one label of pasta water, hoping that it would make this tomatoey, garlicky sauce. However, the sauce broke. The oil and tomato paste would keed separating. The look of the sauce was compromised 😞 Even though it tastet good 🙂. Any idea how to prevent this ? How to make the sauce not to break in this case ?
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1: Add a little beurre manie (essentially a roux added after other cooking has happened as opposed to starting with the roux. It's equal parts by volume butter and starch- flour or I like using arrowroot starch or potato starch) at the same time as the tomato paste. I cant remember specifically at the moment, but there's something about the proteins in dairy fat that helps keep an emulsion stable better than simply the oil and whisking. Then add the pasta water as you did but let the pasta water cool to below the temp of what's in the pan. Bring up to a simmer then add pasta.
2: I like the very minimal water technique of this Serious Eats mac n cheese (probably where I read the dairy fat science bit from above now that I'm thinking about it) . Gemeli, small shells and elbows, basically any small dense shapes work particularly well. The uber thickened starch water that is already attached to the pasta is the best for holding together an improvized light pasta dish. I usually add other things instead of the evaporated milk and cheese from the actual recipe and the sauce holds together pretty well, I've definitely done it with sauteed garlic before. If you're adding a lot of other things or acidic things (like the tomato paste) a little butter and Parmesan goes a long way towards keeping everything pretty, and delicious .
But/and here are some helpful articles from thekitchn on
1) why sauces break
2) how to fix a broken sauce
Last, on pasta particularly, I learned to add the cup of starchy water from cooking the noodles OFF the heat, when you are mixing the sauce and cooked noodles.