Saturday, March 31, 2012

Braised Pork Shoulder ~ Italian Style

This is another classic Italian Sunday dinner.  It’s easy to make, serves a big group of family and friends, and while it’s neatly tucked away in the oven for about four hours, you have time to set the table and get ready for your guests arrival.  I actually squeezed in a nap when I made this dish last weekend!

The technique for making a braised pork shoulder is about the same whether or not you are going to make it “Italian style”.  If you’ve never purchased a pork shoulder understand that a full boneless pork shoulder can way as much as 12-15 pounds.  They sell this size at our local Costco.  I’m not sure I have a pot large enough for pork shoulder that size, and even if I did I don’t think I could get enough friends and family in the house to eat it.  I also prefer a bone-in pork shoulder as it improves flavor.  I typically use a 6-7 pound pork shoulder with skin removed.  With the pound of Italian sausage I add, when combined with two pounds of pasta, the dinner feeds 10-12 adults.

The basic technique for any pork shoulder is to brown sausage or chopped bacon either in a large skillet or a Dutch oven or other roasting pan.  After they’ve browned them you remove and add a salt and peppered pork shoulder and brown on all sides.  This is where the recipes diverge.  For the Italian-style you cover the meat in your favorite “Sunday gravy”  (aka pasta sauce).  If you are going with a classis pork shoulder, say to make pulled pork, you remove the meat and sauté some onions, celery and carrots in the drippings before returning the meat to the pot using any additional seasonings you prefer.  Like the Italian-style version, it’s important to have liquid about half-way up the sides of the meat and I use two bottles of dark beer (lager) or an equal amount of apple cider, filling the rest of the way with chicken broth.  Whether you are using the pasta sauce or the classic liquids, it’s important to baste the meat about hourly and cook covered at 300F for four hours, until the meat is fork tender.

I won’t review pasta sauce recipes here, as I’ve done that previously.  With that said you can just as easily use a couple large jars of store-bought pasta sauce for this recipe.  If it is very thick, you may want to thin it just a little, or toss in some mushrooms or calamata olives if you are so inclined.  Braising the pork and sausage in the pasta sauce for four hours provides a most delicious sauce and succulent, tender meat that your guests will surely enjoy. 





Platter

Ingredients
6-7 pound, bone-in or semi-boneless pork shoulder, skin removed
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 large pot of red pasta sauce OR 64 ounces of canned pasta sauce
¼ cup salt (for the pasta water)
¼ cup olive oil (for the pasta water)
2 pounds fettuccine
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 bunch of fresh parsley, washed – dried – chopped


Plated

Recipe
Begin this process five hours before serving time:  Brown the Italian sausage in a large skillet or Dutch Oven.  Salt and pepper the pork shoulder and brown in the sausage drippings.  Placing the pork and sausages in the Dutch Oven or roasting pan, cover with the pasta sauce.  Place in a 300F oven and roast for four hours, basting with the pasta sauce each hour.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven and place the meat on a cutting board.  It should be ‘fork tender’ so take care when lifting it out of the pan of hot sauce.  Cover with aluminum foil. Start a large pot of water heating to a boil for the pasta.  Add salt and olive oil to the water.   Let the sauce sit off heat for about 15 minutes, then using a large spoon, skim off the fat from the sauce.  Place the roasting pan on low heat and bring the sauce up to a simmer.  Cook the fettuccine about 2 minutes less than the package instructions for al dente.  Move the drained pasta into the hot sauce and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly until the pasta is al dente.

Cut or pull the meat into individual portion size pieces, discarding any fat and the bone.  Slice the Italian sausage into thirds.     

Place the cooked pasta on a platter or on individual plates and mound meat in the center.  Add any additional sauce from the pan as necessary, and sprinkle with grated cheese and chopped parsley.
 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

La Concha, the Kan Kan Pork Chop and Mofongo

I just returned from another trip to the sunny island of Puerto Rico and realized I have never made a blog post about the food of this beautiful place.  Puerto Rican cuisine has its roots in the cooking traditions and practices of Spain (who colonized it), Africa (whose people were brought here as slaves) and the Amerindian Taínos (the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Bahamas and Antilles.)  Locals call their cuisine cocina criolla. What we think of as Puerto Rican cuisine today was well established by the end of the nineteenth century.

Likely the food most thought of as Puerto Rican is mofongo.  Mofongo is fried mashed green plantains, and something everyone should try during a visit to the island.  If you've been to other islands in the region you've found similar dishes, usually made by boiling (instead of frying) and mashing plantains, known as fufu de plátano in Cuban cuisine and Mangú in the Dominican Republic.  I find the mofongo in Puerto Rico to be more salty than the counterparts served on the other islands.  And while these dishes are all thought of as original to the Caribbean, they are actually of African origin and a variant of a dish called "fufu," which is made from any number of starchy vegetables and was introduced to the Caribbean by African slaves in the Spanish New World colonies.  In Puerto Rico the fried green plantains are cooked until soft, seasoned and then placed into a pilón (a sort of wooden mortar and pestle) and mashed, creating a center cavity which can be filled with the meat or seafood of your choice.  Of course it can also be turned out onto your plate, which is perhaps the most common way to serve it at home unless you have a Pilón de Madera available for every diner.




On this trip we had our first mofongo at Restaurante Raices in Old San Juan, which sets out to deliver a 1940's era style dining experience, including traditional mofongo served in the wooden pilón and drinks served in metal canteen-type cups.  Waiters are appropriately costumed.  Likely their most famous dish is the Kan Kan pork chop (sometimes also displayed as Chuletas Can-Can in other restaurants) shown above.  Several of us enjoyed this large, thinly pounded and fried chop with ribs, that is ringed with its own crispy pork rind.  It was nicely seasoned and not for the faint of heart due to its large portion and side of rice and beans.  Several of my dining colleagues ordered a side of the mofongo and to my amazement, finished the entire meal, including dessert.

We were told that the Kan Kan pork chop actually originated at La Guardarraya restaurant ("The Guardrail") in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico in 1957, when Don Juan Vera-Martínez started the Gallera Loma Bonita, a cockfight arena in the town of Yauco. There, he opened the restaurant where the famous pork chops first appeared at the request of a regular diner who described what he would like to eat. When the huge pork chop arrived with the fried rind it brought to mind the ruffled can-can type underskirt women wore in the 50's. The name was coined and the rest is history.

If you get to San Juan do check out Raices remembering that even on weeknights it is very busy and they do not accept reservations.  Go early for faster seating.
Another famous treat is the roast suckling pig of Puerto Rico, also known as lechón. People have come from far and wide to sample this delicacy, and I know at least one person who broke their vegetarian dining habit to try it.  It is often served by the locals during holidays.  If you are interested in trying this dish there is one road in Guavate, Puerto Rico that is known as the Ruta del Lechón. To get here, take Highway 52 south to exit 33 (Guavate). Turn left and head up Rd 184. You're now in lechón territory.



The last time I was in San Juan the historical resort "La Concha" in the fashionable Condado area was closed for renovations.  With renovations now completed, we booked a table in their famous clam shell restaurant call "Perla".  The resort originally opened in 1958 to rave reviews and was hailed as a shining moment in the Tropical Modernism movement’s heyday in Puerto Rico.  Perla, the signature seashell-shaped floating restaurant designed by internationally-renowned architect Mario Salvatori, was termed “a marvel of engineering and architecture” and “one of the high-water marks of Puerto Rico’s national architecture.”  I'm pleased to say it was restored to perfection and should be on your list of places to dine, if for nothing other than the architecture.  The original restaurant was open air, but has now be glassed in, actually improving the dining experience.  The food was generally well prepared, although the Spanish olive salad lacked a single olive, and the molten chocolate cake was over-baked and solid throughout.   But the lobster tail was nicely roasted (and not over-cooked as so often happens) and all of my dinner colleagues felt the meal and ambiance was quite nice and certainly unique.  If you are looking for a place for a romantic dinner, this is the restaurant of choice.  Ask for a table-for-two facing the sea.
Desserts are common in Puerto Rican cuisine and include items such as sweet rice pudding, bread pudding, Bienmesabe (little yellow cakes soaked in coconut cream), Puerto Rican style sponge cake with cream and/or fruit filling), coconut pudding, Flan (egg custard), and rum cake.  I enjoyed most of these on this trip, as I  have trouble saying no to a sweet treat at the end of dinner.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn't mention that upon my first trip to San Juan nearly 15 years ago, I was greeted at the Hilton hotel entrance with a piña colada.  This is significant and sticks in my mind because the piña colada was introduced on August 16, 1954 at the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan and has been the beverage of Puerto Rico since 1978.  As you know, I like to absorb as much local culture as possible on my travels, so I'm always sure to enjoy a number of these sweet, rum-based cocktails made with rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice.
Sitting by the beach enjoying a cocktail and the many foods of the island of Puerto Rico makes for a wonderful and memorably trip and I highly recommend it!!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Julia's French Onion Soup

When your husband arrives at home with a huge bag of onions because they were on sale and nearly the same price as the three pound bag you asked for, what do you do?  French onion soup, for starters... or in this case the main course! 
The 'on sale' onions
come in 25 pound bags.
French onion soup has been a favorite in America since the 1960's when Julia Child drove the interest in French cuisine. She made the soup in her initial series on public TV, The French Chef, and since then Americans have loved this dish. However, way back in 1803 Susannah Carter published the first known American recipe for onion soup in The Frugal Housewife.
The Frugal Housewife
or
Complete Woman Cook.
Onion soup was also enjoyed by ancient Romans and Greeks, although the French onion soup (with the bread and cheese topping) we think of today originated in France in the 18th century. It is this version that Julia made so popular here in the USA and that I share with you today. I'm using the recipe that she published in Julia Child, The Way To Cook, which if you do not already have on your shelf, I highly recommend. It is the one cookbook I come back to time and again. She not only provides recipes in this wonderful book, but important master recipes and manufacturing notes that are extremely helpful in preparing individual recipes as well as improving your basic cooking techniques.  This recipe does not result with stringy, stretchy cheese you find in many restaurants, but one with much more flavor as it uses Gruyère, the famous Swiss cheese, and also dry French vermooth and Cognac or brandy (as opposed to wine) in the broth.


However, the single most important ingredient in a good French Onion soup is the beef broth.  So I suggest you take the time (about six hours of cooking time) to make this ahead and use it in the recipe.  Making stock is not difficult and well worth the time.  I start with raw beef bones such as the shank, neck and knuckle plus any raw scraps I have collected in the freezer.  If I have little on hand, I purchase an oxtail or two.  If you are making a large quantity (which I  suggest to make it worth your effort) do the following.

Beef Broth (made a day or more in advance)
Preheat the oven to 450F and arrange the bones and about 1/2 cup each of roughly chopped carrots, onion and celery in a roasting pan.  If the meat is not fatty, toss lightly with oil.  If it is fatty, do not oil but rather stir several times while cooking to coat the meat and vegetables.  Roast (uncovered) for 30-40 minutes.  Remove solids from the pan and discard the fat, placing the solids in a stock pot.  Place the roasting pan on the stove top and deglaze with two cups of water, scraping any solids from the pan bottoms/sides as the water boils.  Pour the liquid over the solids in the stock pot and add an additional carrot, onion and celery rib to the pot. You may also add a few garlic cloves and plum tomato if you prefer. An herb bouquet of your favorite seasonings should also be added to the pot.  Add additional water to cover the ingredients by about two inches.  Bring to the simmer on top of the stove; skim off and discard gray scum that will collect on the surface for several minutes.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt.  Cover and simmer, skimming off fat and scum occasionally, about 4-5 hours.  Strain the stock through a colander into a bowl, pressing juices out of the ingredients.  Degrease the stock and season lightly to taste.  Strain again, this time through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan or container for storage.

Julia's French Onion Soup Gratinéed
Plan to start cooking about four hours ahead of serving, or prepare the soup in advance and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready for the gratinée (bread and cheese topping.)  If you want to speed up the process, you can consider this pressure cooker version of Julia's recipe.  This recipe makes about six dinner servings.

3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions ( about 2 1/2 pounds)
1/2 tsp each salt and sugar (to help brown the onions)
2 Tbs flour
2 1/2 quarts homemade beef stock, 2 cups of which should be hot
4 to 5 Tbs Cognac, Armagnac, or other good brandy
1 cup dry white French vermouth

Special Equipment Suggested
A food processor with slicing blade or a hand slicer is useful for the onions; a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan with cover for onion cooking and simmering.

Browning the onions--40 minutes.  Set the saucepan over moderate heat with the butter and oil; when the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover the pan, and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Blend in the salt and sugar, raise heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25-30 minutes. (Julian's note: Mine took less time to cook than noted here.) 

Simmering the soup.  Sprinkle in the flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from heat, let cool a moment, then whisk in 2 cups of hot stock.  When well blended, bring to the simmer, adding the rest of the stock, the Cognac or brandy, and the vermouth.  Cover loosely, and simmer very slowly 1 1/2 to 3 hours, adding a little water if the liquid reduces too much.  Correct seasoning.  The soup can be served as is or gratinéed.  (Julia's note:  For the most delicious results, you want a slow simmer of 2 3/4 to 3 hours.)

Gratinéed
When onion soup is the main course, bake it in the oven with cheese and toasted French bread, and bring it all crusty and bubbling to the table.  A big salad, more bread and cheese, and fruit could finish the meal, accompanied by a bottle or two of fruity white wine, like sauvignon blanc or even gewürztraminer.

The previously toasted French bread remains crisp
even after 20 minutes of baking in the oven.
MANUFACTURING NOTE:  Be sure you have a homemade type of bread with a body here because flimsy loaves will disintegrate into a slimy mass. 

Ingredients
8-12 slices of toasted French bread
1 1/2 cups of Swiss Gruyere (half grated, half very thinly sliced) with a little grated Parmesan cheese

Lightly oil the French bread slices and bake at 425F for five minutes on each side.

Assembling and baking--about 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 425F and set the rack at the middle level.  Line the bottom of the serving dishes with half the slices of toasted French bread, and spread over them the sliced cheese.  Ladle on the hot onion soup and float over them a layer of toasted bread, topping with the grated cheese.  Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese.  Move immediately into the oven and bake 20 to 30 minutes, until the cheese has melted and browned nicely.  Serve as soon as possible-- if you dally too long, the toast topping may sink into the soup.

(Julian's note: In a convection oven it only takes about 15 minutes if you ladeled the soup in hot.  I do not think it is any longer common to have the bottom crouton in the soup and I have omitted it in my own version of this recipe.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Corned Beef and Cabbage: An Irish-American Tradition

For your Saint Patrick's Day celebration this year you are likely considering making corned beef and cabbage; an Irish tradition. Right?

Despite the popular belief in the USA that corned beef and cabbage is a traditional Irish dish, it was not previously and is not now popular in Ireland. As we found during our recent visit to the Emerald Isle, today the serving of corned beef is for tourists and the local Irish do not think of corned beef as a traditional food. In Ireland, the closest traditional dish is bacon and cabbage (more like Canadian-style bacon or ham.) Corned beef and cabbage became popular in the U.S. after Irish immigrants used corned beef instead of pork in the dish. The popularity of corned beef over bacon to the U.S. Irish was likely due to corned beef in their native land being considered a luxury export, but was inexpensive and readily available in America.

Julian having a coffee break near Kilkenny.

 
However, the appearance of corned beef in Irish cuisine can be traced as far back as the 12th century in the poem Aislinge Meic Con Glinne (The Vision of MacConglinne.) Here it is described as a delicacy a king uses to purge himself of the "demon of gluttony." Cattle were only eaten when no longer able to provide milk or to work. The corned beef as described in this text was a rare dish, given the value of cattle as well as the expense of salt, and was unrelated to the corned beef industry which was yet to come.

Ireland was used as a major production center for beef when a colony of England, although most Irish during the 17th to mid-19th century did not regularly consume beef in either fresh or salted form. This was due to its prohibitive cost, the fact that the beef cattle were owned by the British, and that most if not all of the corned beef was exported for English consumption as well as for use on British naval fleets. The majority of Irish that resided in Ireland at the time mainly consumed dairy, pork and seafood, as well as the infamous potato.


"The Celtic grazing lands of...Ireland had been used to pasture cows for centuries. The British colonized...the Irish, transforming much of their countryside into an extended grazing land to raise cattle for a hungry consumer market at home...The British taste for beef had a devastating impact on the impoverished and disenfranchised people of...Ireland. Pushed off the best pasture land and forced to farm smaller plots of marginal land, the Irish turned to the potato, a crop that could be grown abundantly in less favorable soil. Eventually, cows took over much of Ireland, leaving the native population virtually dependent on the potato for survival." —Jeremy Rifkin

Irleand's Rocky Countryside
Today's corned beef is termed as such because the 'corn' refers to the coarse granular salts used to cure the beef. It is wet-cured in spiced brine and is more supple and tender because of this, and in modern times, is usually made from beef brisket. I prefer to purchase the Vienna Beef© brand of corned beef due to its high quality and consistency. Below I give you my preferred recipe, which includes desalination of the beef it water the roasting it with a mustard glaze. I include also my recipe for a nice sauce to serve with the prepared corned beef.

Corned Beef and Cabbage, with Parsley Potatoes

• 1 piece of corned beef brisket (about 5 lbs)
• boiling water
• 1 head cabbage (Savoy if you prefer a more delicate flavor)
• 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
• 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
• 12 small red skinned potatoes
• 1 bunch of fresh (flat leaf) parsley
• 8 tablespoons Irish butter, softened at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

4 Hours Before Serving or More: If you have a good-quality corned beef brisket (such as those made by Vienna Beef), it can go into your roasting pan straight from the package. If not, you may need to wash the brisket and sprinkle with the pickling spices which may have been included in a separate packet. Place the brisket in a large roasting pan and cover the meat with boiling water. Cover and bake for two hours. Turn off the oven and allow to cool in cooking liquid inside the oven for an additional hour, then remove to your counter to continue cooling.

2 Hours Before Serving: Prepare a sauce for the corned beef

• 4 oz sour cream
• 1 Tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
• 1 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

Combine all these ingredients and refrigerate for two hours to permit the flavors to blend. Remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for about one hour, just before moving to the next step.

One Hour Before Serving: Prepare the red skin potatoes by scrubbing and removing eyes. Leave whole if possible. Cut larger potatoes into halves or wedges. Place in salted water until ready to boil. Boil potatoes until tender, during the last 45 minutes of cooking of the corned beef.

Drain cooked corned beef and return to roasting pan. Add one cup fresh water. (Note: If you prefer a less strong flavor, select a Savoy [curly] cabbage. If you prefer a robust flavor choose a traditional cabbage.) Cut the cabbage into small wedges without removing the core (to help keep it together while cooking) and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the cabbage around and on top of the beef. Bake covered at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place cabbage in an over safe dish with lid. Then combine the brown sugar and mustard in small bowl and spread on the corned beef. Cover the cabbage but leave the beef uncovered and return both to the oven for another 30 minutes to glaze the beef and finish cooking the cabbage.

Chop just the leaves of the fresh, washed parsley using most of the bunch. (More is generally better.)

Remove the meat and cabbage from the oven and let rest while you finish the potatoes.

Place the drained, cooked potatoes in the bowl while still piping hot and toss with good quality (Irish preferred) butter to coat the potatoes. Then add the chopped fresh parsley and gently toss until the parsley is evenly distributed, taking care not to break up the tender potatoes.

Slice the corned beef across the grain. Place 2-3 slices on each plate, along with a wedge of cabbage and 3 parsley potatoes. Place the sauce on the table and let each diner add to his serving of corned beef.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pasta Sauce - Ragù Style vs. Fresh Sauté

All tomato-based pasta sauces are not the same and today I'd like to talk about the two basic methods of preparing a red pasta sauce. 

I'm sure many of us have fond memories of mom or grandma (Nana) making a big pan of sauce on Sundays, which sometimes was used throughout the week for a wide-range of meals.  My sister and cousins often talk of memories of Grandma Alesiano doing this, which filled the house with a wonderful, stomach-growl-inducing aroma.  My mother and aunts did the same.  This pot of sauce was made with a wide-range of ingredients and simmered on the stove top for hours.  It is often referred to as a ragù or "Sunday Gravy" here in America.  Indeed, when I visited a friend's house "Mamma Scolaro" informed me she had been making the 'gravy' all day long.

Grandma Alesiano (center) with
her daughters (my mother and aunts).
Ragù Style:  The term ragù actually refers to a slow-cooked meat sauce, of which there are also two major varieties.  Neapolitan ragù, as its name indicates, comes from Naples, Italy.  This ragu is made from three main parts: a soffritto (the French term is mirepoix, a combination of celery, onions and carrots), meat, and tomato sauce. It is very similar to the Italian-American "Sunday gravy", the primary difference being the addition of a greater variety of meat in the Italian-American version, most famously meatballs, braciole, sausage, and pork chops. 
Julians "Sunday Gravy"
The other one is the Bolognese ragù (from Bologna).  The major difference between Neapolitan and Bolognese is how the meat is used as well as the amount of tomato in the sauce.  Bolognese version uses very finely chopped meat, while the Neapolitan version uses whole meat chunks, taking it from the casserole when cooked and serving it as a second course or with pasta.  The Neapolitan soffritto also contains much more onion than the Bolognese.
In Naples, white wine is replaced by red wine, butter by lard or olive oil, and lots of basil leaves are used where Bolognese ragù has no or few herbs. In the Neapolitan recipe the content may well be enriched with raisins and pine nuts. Milk or cream is not used in either. Of course in Italy you find numerous varieties of each type.
Rigatoni Bolognese
Salt:  One thing I've noticed about pasta prepared at home is that people don't add nearly enough salt to the water.  A small handful of salt is required to cook a pound of pasta if it is to flavor the noodles appropriately.   
I make a ragù or 'gravy' when I have lots of time available and want a rich, complex sauce that is somewhat heavier than the fresh sautéed version I discuss below.  I often make it with whatever ingredients I have around the house, and in addition to the tomatoes and garlic, often includes mushrooms, olives, ground meat or meat balls, or sausage.  Just prior to the pasta noodles being cooked al dente, I remove them from the water and mix them into a couple cups of the ragù (less any meatballs that may have been cooked in the sauce) in a separate pan.  Here I let the cooking continue for a minute or two to absorb into the noodles, finishing to a proper al dente, and to ensure it will not leak water into the serving dish.
When you are ready to plate the pasta, use long tongs twirl it in the pan, lift it out of the pan and lower it into the bowl(s), then re-twirl.  Then spoon some extra sauce on top of the coated pasta noodles and garnish with grated parmesan cheese and some chopped parsley. 

But this is not the sauce you usually receive in high-quality restaurants or the type you would serve at a more formal dinner party.  This version, and one I  do hope you will try if you have not, is prepared in a sauté pan and takes no more than 20-30 minutes.   The first time I had this was at a hotel where the chef prepared it tableside.  It was so easy and delicious I have had it in my repertoire ever since.


Fresh Sauté:   To make this style, start the pasta water heating and using a 10" or 12" sauté pan or even a chicken frying skillet (with higher sides than a sauté if you are making a larger quantity), heate olive oil and sauté garlic and onions together.  Other ingredients, such as olives or peppers can be added if desired, as I did here.  (If adding meatballs/shrimp, prepare them separately and add just before serving. I quickly sauteed the shrimp in garlic, white wine and butter, then added this juice to the sauce.)  One half-cup of red wine is then added and cooked down for a few minutes.  I then add fresh seeded (or out of season canned) tomatoes, chopped into larger chunks.  I never use tomato sauce for this recipe, as you want it to be more fresh with chunks of tomatoes intact when served.  This creates the foundation for a pasta dinner and can continue to simmer lightly on the stove top while your pasta cooks in salted boiling water.
Cook the pasta until bendable but yet not al dente, about 2-3 minutes less than noted on the package for cooking time.  Add a half cup or so of the salty pasta water to your sauce.   Then increase the heat and simmer until the water and oil emulsify and begin to form a slightly creamy sauce.  You'll be amazed at how the texture changes.  Now add some fresh finely grated cheese.  It doesn't take much but it must be finely grated so it melts easily into the sauce.  I like 2 tablespoons of fresh Pecorino (sometimes called Romano in the USA) or 3 tablespoons of Parmesan. 

Add the noodles to the sauté pan (either moving it with tongs from pot to skillet, or draining it.  If you drain it reserve some of the pasta water in case you need more.)  Gently turn the pasta to coat thoroughly and let it continue to cook until al dente, another 2-3 minutes.  If the sauce is too thick add a bit more pasta water. Too watery; continue to cook for a bit longer. Remember however that the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid and the sauce will thicken after it is removed from the heat, so it should be a bit loose when moved into the serving bowl(s).  Just after removing the pasta from the heat, add 1-2 tablespoons of butter, turning to coat.  This will make the sauce even more silky.  In Italian it's called mantecare, 'to make creamy.'   Sprinkle with a bit more freshly grated cheese and serve. You will not find a more flavorful pasta than this! 


While I love and often prepare a long-simmered ragù, this technique is perfect for a weeknight or whenever you don't have the time for the long preparation or when you want a dish that is more fresh in both taste and appearance.