Pasta has, and will always be, a weeknight staple. After getting home from school, I would sit down at the dinner table to a steamy hot plate of pasta (whether it be linguini, spaghetti, macaroni, or risotto) and a protein. In college, pasta is still my go to weeknight meal. It’s so simple and clean-up is minimal, but its simplicity is also its curse. It can get so tiring to eat the same old pasta over and over and over again, so I started experimenting with different easy ways to make my boring pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan into an amazing and exciting dinner. 1. Salt! Salt! Salt! Most people only sprinkle salt because they (wrongly) think it will lower the boiling point of the water. But if you add enough salt, you will be seasoning the pasta as it absorbs water when it cooks. So do NOT skip out on the salt, make the water in your pot taste like the ocean and don’t add the pasta until all the salt is dissolved. On the same note, do not add oil to the water. The oil coats the pasta and doesn’t allow it to absorb the salt and the sauce won’t be able to coat the noodles.
2. Use a big cooking pot and fill it up with a lot of water. If you use too little water, the boiling point will drop too much when you add the pasta. This will cause the water to have to re-reach a boil, at which point you will be left with a sticky, unappetizing mess of noodles.
3. Use chicken stock instead of plain water. The chicken stock adds an amazing richness and flavor toyour noodles without adding another step to your recipe. I like to use half salted-water and half chicken stock, but even using one-quarter chicken stock and three quarters water will add flavor to your pasta. To increase the flavor, Add ½ cup of chicken stock to a saucepan and add some veggies, protein, and spices and sauté the contents over medium-high heat until the chicken stock has reduced to half its original volume. You now have a reduction sauce for your pasta—it will perfectly compliment the flavors the chicken stock adds to your noodles. 4. Cook your pasta in Red Wine! This will take a little bit more time, but the color and flavor it adds to your pasta is totally worth it. To do this, cook your pasta in salted water for half of the suggested cooking time. While it is cooking, add 1 tbs of oil to a saucepan over medium heat with anychicken, sausage, seafood, or veggies you are going to put in your pasta.
After sautéing the oil mixture for 1 or 2 minutes, add ½ cup of red wine and change the heat to high. Once the pasta has cooked forhalf the suggested cooking time, drain and add the noodles to the saucepan with the (now boiling) red wine mixture and stir until the noodles are tender and pink. By the time the noodles are done, all the wine should be absorbed, if it’s not, cook it at a boil for a few more minutes and by then it should be think enough to work as a sauce!
5. Last, but definitely not least, I’ve been talking about adding veggies, protein, and spices to your pasta. You can choose any that you'd like, but there are some staple ingredients that can be thrown into any pasta and take it to the next level. Things I love to add to my pasta are: sundried tomatoes, zucchini, mint breadcrumbs, chicken sausage, turkey bacon, lemon juice or zest, and cheese…oh so much cheese. There are certain ways to do this that will help you amplify the flavor of the pasta.
For the sundried tomatoes, add those to your sauté pan at the same time as the pasta, even a little bit later is okay, you don’t want to over cook them. For the zucchini, set your oven to 350 and place thin slices of zucchini on a cookie pan and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Let them bake for 10-15 minutes. Add to your pasta right before serving (make sure you don’t start baking them right away or they will be cold!). Mint breadcrumbs are an a‘mmmmmmmm’azing addition to your pasta, they are probably my new favorite thing to put into any meal (I also use it as breading for chicken). Use freshly chopped mint and butter or give them a sweeter taste (this is my favorite method) and toast breadcrumbs in a sauté pan with a little bit of mint simple syrup from my summer drink series! Either way, be sure to continuously stir the breadcrumbs and add to your pasta right before serving; add the lemon juice to the breadcrumbs or straight to the pasta immediately before the breadcrumbs. Protein is easy and can be cooked ahead, frozen, reheated and thrown in a sauté pan with the reduction sauce or right before serving if you are not making a reduction. Finally, thecheese; please do not just through a pound of grated Parmesan on top of your steaming plate of pasta. Experiment with your cheese and add it to the noodles when it is still in the colander after being strained. Toss the pasta and continuously add cheese so the cheese can melt into the noodles.
Now you have the tools to create exciting pasta dishes that are easy clean-ups and quick to make! Just remember not to use all of these tips at the same time, I promise these tips will make your pasta better when used one or two (or even three, in some combinations) at the same time. But I do not promise that you will have success with chicken stock, red wine, and lemon pasta. So think before you combine and cook away Collegiettes, and send in any recipe requests!