Cooking with Spaff #1 Page Three
DOMINIC ARMATO'S PASTA DISH
1) Put the dried porcinis in a small bowl, and cover with 1 C. of very hot water. Let the porcinis soak for 20-30 minutes, until soft, then remove from the water and chop. Strain the soaking liquid through a paper towel, and save.
2) Drain the tomatoes, seed them, and toss them in a cuisinart or food processor. Give them a quick buzz. I mean really quick. Literally a few seconds. Just enough to break ‘em up so that you’ve got a nice chunky sauce. You don’t want to liquefy them and lose all of the texture. Actually, if you like a really chunky sauce, you can skip this step altogether and just break ‘em up in the pan while you’re cooking them.
Meanwhile, in a nice big skillet or saucepan (enough for the sauce AND pasta), combine the olive oil and butter and heat over medium-high until the butter is melted, but don’t let it brown.
3) Toss your pancetta (or sausage, or nothing) into the saucepan, and saute until it just starts to get golden. About five minutes.
4) Add the carrot, celery and onion, and saute until the onion starts to get translucent. About three minutes.
5) Add the chopped porcinis, and continue to saute for another two minutes or so.
6) Add the tomatoes, 1/3 C. of the mushroom soaking liquid, the red pepper and possibly the salt, leading us to:
Dom's Culinary Sidebar #1
One of those things that seems super picky but actually makes a difference is WHEN you add the salt to a tomato sauce can actually have a rather significant effect on how it turns out. As soon as you add the salt, the tomatoes start releasing water. So if you add the salt early in the cooking process, you’ll get a richer, more saucy tomato sauce. If you add the salt right at the end, you’ll have a lighter, fresher tasting tomato sauce. Both are perfectly great in their own right. It’s just a matter of what you’re in the mood for.
…at any rate, add the salt to taste, bearing in mind that pancetta is generally pretty well salted. You’ll need more for sausage or a naked sauce.
7) Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the sauce gently until it’s no longer watery and has a nice light saucy consistency… about 12 minutes, give or take.
8) Meanwhile, boil a big ol’ pot of water, and cook your pasta al dente, bringing us to:
Dom's Culinary Sidebar #2
Al dente, mind you. Your pasta should have some bite to it. In general, you always want to cook pasta in a huge pot of water. If you barely have enough water to cover the pasta, the temperature of the water drops significantly when you add the pasta, it doesn’t cook as quickly, and it gets gooey. Then you can be a chef at the Olive Garden. Also, always undercook your pasta just slightly. If you think it needs one more minute, it’s ready to go… and we’ll get to the reason for this in a moment. Lastly, timing is everything. The real challenge in cooking great pasta is getting your sauce and pasta to be ready at the same time, but while a sauce can usually sit for a few minutes, the pasta can’t. If one is going to be done first, better if it’s the sauce.
9) When you’ve got a nice saucy consistency and your pasta is about a minute away from being done, add a tablespoon or two of cream to the sauce. However much suits you. Also, stir in the pecorino. At this point, drain the pasta, but not to the point of being dry. You want a little bit of water clinging to it. Then, with the heat still going, add the pasta to the sauce and toss for a minute.
Dom's Culinary Sidebar #3
This is one of those magical pasta things. The real key to amazing pasta is actually cooking the pasta in the sauce for the last minute. This achieves two things. First off, it lets the pasta actually absorb a little bit of the sauce in its last minute of cooking. Secondly, the little bit of starchy water that’s still sticking to the pasta actually acts as a light thickener to finish the sauce. Seems like a simple little thing, but it makes a world of difference.
10) At this point, you’re pretty much finished. Serve it up, sprinkle a little more pecorino if you like, maybe a touch of fresh black pepper, get some good crusty bread, and you’re good to go.