WHEN IT COMES to ease, speed, thrift, comfort, satisfaction and sheer belovedness, can any food compete with pasta? And yet, for all those good reasons, it’s easy to get into a pasta rut, rotating through the same standard sauces on autopilot. With that in mind, each of the recipes provided here incorporates an unexpected ingredient or a technique that surprises.
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In the recipe for red-wine pasta with pancetta and chestnuts at right, the pasta finishes cooking in the red wine, drinking it up, which gives the glistening noodles a gorgeous burgundy hue and a rare depth of flavor. It’s an elegant dish, taking a weeknight pasta somewhere a bit more sumptuous. Using jarred chestnuts makes this a quick recipe—no need to peel the nuts, a terribly fussy business. Making this dish also happens to be a good way to use up leftover red wine, if you have a few open bottles. While a Tuscan red might be the most natural choice for a pasta sauce, I find a fruit-forward California Cabernet marries well with the natural sweetness of the chestnuts.
A few of these recipes come from restaurants I’ve sorely missed during lockdown. In her strozzapreti with carrots, Lena Ciardullo, executive chef of Union Square Café in New York, situates the carrot, normally a supporting player, at center stage. She roasts her carrots with fennel and ground coriander, then combines them with crisp pancetta, charred scallions, Fresno peppers and basil. A generous cup of stracciatella—the luxuriously rich center of a ball of burrata cheese—provides a tangy creaminess that counters the sweetness of the roasted carrots.
At Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, chef-proprietor Missy Robbins rethinks a classic cacio e pepe, swapping in pink peppercorns for the usual black ones. Pink peppercorns are actually berries and unrelated, botanically, to black pepper. They do have a peppery flavor: a slightly floral blooming heat that teases the palate. (One word of warning: Pink peppercorns are in the cashew family and should be avoided by anyone allergic to tree nuts.) To emulsify the sauce, Ms. Robbins simply adds pasta water to a little melted butter and stirs for a few moments, making this perhaps the fastest pasta sauce I know. Mafaldine is a long, flat and wide pasta with a ruffle to its edges. If you can’t find it, use another ribbonlike pasta such as fettuccine or tagliatelle.
Nancy Silverton, the Los Angeles doyenne of all things pasta—and, for that matter, pizza and bread—makes ingenious use of leftover bread to thicken a sauce of olive oil, garlic and chile flakes. It’s economical, speedy and requires no skill. Simply fry breadcrumbs in good olive oil. Reserve a portion of them to be added at the end for texture and crunch; cook the remainder in a bit of pasta water until they melt, along with the garlic, into a smooth sauce. The result is at once garlicky and gentle, soft and crisp. Most likely, it will not require a trip to the grocery store.
Another contemporary restaurant classic, the mushroom ragù from Carbone in Manhattan, is both hearty and refined. The secret to this dish from chef Mario Carbone lies in the last-minute addition of stock, fresh herbs and tomatoes for vibrancy. All the ingredients can be found in a supermarket. Make it with vegetable stock, and the dish is vegetarian. And if you make the ragù in advance, dinner can be ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Unbeatable.
Strozzapreti With Carrots
Total Time: 40 minutes
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ bunches of carrots
- 5 teaspoons fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 bunch scallions, charred and cut into 1-inch pieces
- ¼ cup pancetta
- 1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 pound strozzapreti, or other dry pasta
- 1 large Fresno pepper, deseeded and cut in thin half-moons
- ½ cup basil, torn into pieces
- ⅓ cup grated Pecorino Romano
- ⅓ cup grated Grana Padano
- 2 cups carrot juice
- 12 tablespoons / 1 ½ sticks cold, unsalted butter
- 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 heaping cup stracciatella cheese, or burrata
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Set a pot of heavily salted water over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, peel the carrots, then cut them on the bias into slices about 1½ inches across and ¼ inch thick. Toss with olive oil, fennel, coriander and salt. Roast, shaking pan, halfway through, until carrots are tender and lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes.
- While carrots roast, trim scallions, removing root end and darker green leaves. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat until hot. Add scallions and char, shaking pan now and then, until blackened and tender. Set aside. Once cool, cut scallions into 1-inch pieces.
- Set the same cast-iron skillet over low heat. Add pancetta and cook until crisp and most fat renders out, about 10 minutes.
- Cook pasta in boiling, salted water according to package directions until just al dente. Set stracciatella in a sieve to remove excess water.
- While pasta cooks, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic and the Fresno pepper and sweat. Once garlic starts to color, add basil, scallions, carrots, half the pancetta and carrot juice. Add ¼ cup pasta water and bring to a boil. When pasta is just al dente, drain and add to carrot sauce. Increase heat to high and toss pasta to coat, adding butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue to cook pasta in sauce, tossing, until just short of tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Fold in Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano and remaining pancetta. Serve, topping each serving with a generous dollop of stracciatella.
Mafaldine With Crushed Pink Peppercorns and Parmigiano Reggiano
Total Time: 15 minutes
- 1 pound mafaldine ribbonlike shape of dried pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon lightly crushed pink peppercorns
- ¾ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just al dente, about 3 minutes shy of full cooking time. Drain.
- While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: Melt butter in a wide skillet over low heat. Add ¼ cup pasta cooking water and whisk to fully combine.
- Add cooked pasta to sauce in skillet. Cook, tossing, until pasta absorbs most of the sauce.
- Off heat, add ½ cup Parmigiano. Toss until thoroughly mixed. Add 2 teaspoons crushed pink peppercorns and mix well.
- Sprinkle pasta with remaining cheese and pink peppercorns and serve immediately in warmed dishes.
Red-Wine Pasta With Pancetta and Chestnuts
Total Time: 20 minutes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces pancetta, sliced into lardons ¼ inch thick and ½ inch long
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 (12-ounce) jar peeled chestnuts, halved
- 4 leaves sage, chopped
- 1 bottle red wine, such as a smooth Cabernet
- 1 pound fettuccine
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or high-sided skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add pancetta and cook until lightly browned and fat renders, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and sage, raise heat to medium-high and cook 1 minute. Add chestnuts, toss to coat and cook 1 minute. Carefully add wine and bring to a boil.
- While wine comes to a boil, add pasta to boiling water and cook for half the time indicated on package. Drain pasta and add to boiling red-wine mixture. Finish cooking pasta in wine, tossing more or less continuously so strands of pasta are in constant contact with liquid. When pasta is nearly cooked, add butter and toss to combine. Add ¼ cup cheese, toss and serve immediately with remaining cheese at the table.
Fettuccine con Funghi
Total Time: 50 minutes
- 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh chopped Roma tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
- 1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced, ideally trumpets, cremini or shiitake
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 pound dried fettuccine
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 4 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves
- 1 cup minced parsley
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- ½ cup grated Pecorino Toscano
For the mushroom ragù:
For the pasta:
- Make the mushroom ragù: In a saucepan over medium heat, sweat garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add chopped parsley and oregano, and cook 1 minute. The herbs should sizzle when they hit the pan. Add tomatoes and cook 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and season with salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Set aside. (The mushroom ragù can be made a day in advance and refrigerated, or frozen for later use.)
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and boil according to package directions until just short of al dente. Drain.
- In a large sauté pan, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until translucent. Add tomatoes and the fresh oregano, raise the heat to high and cook for 30 seconds. Add 2 cups mushroom ragù and stock, and cook 1 minute.
- Add cooked pasta to pan and cook, tossing vigorously to coat with sauce, 1 minute. Add butter and cheese and toss until combined. Serve immediately.
Pici Pan Cotto
Total Time: 25 minutes
- 14 ounces fresh pici or dried bucatini
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ pound loaf crusty wheat bread torn into 3/4-inch pieces (3 cups)
- 12 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- ½ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
- 3 cups water
- ¼ cup minced parsley
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- ¼ cup pecorino Romano
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat.
- Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan over medium heat, heat 6 tablespoons olive oil until oil slides easily in the pan. Add torn bread and fry, stirring to coat in oil, until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer fried bread to a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
- Add 4 tablespoons olive oil and sliced garlic to pan. Sauté until garlic is lightly browned. Add chile flakes and cook 1 minute. Add 2 cups breadcrumbs, salt and ¾ cup water. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Continue cooking, letting breadcrumbs soak up water, using tongs to break them up and form a sauce, 5-8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and keep at a simmer while you cook pasta.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions until just short of al dente. Transfer drained pasta to sauté pan and increase heat to high. Toss pasta with sauce while adding remaining water. Toss vigorously to bring out starches from pasta. Continue to cook until pasta has absorbed most of the water and is slippery and glistening. Off heat, toss in remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil and parsley and continue tossing 1 minute. Garnished each serving with remaining breadcrumbs, breaking and crumbling them with your fingertips. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Combine cheeses and pass at table.
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Appeared in the January 16, 2021, print edition as ‘Pasta Plus.’