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Friday, May 11, 2012

One Iteration of ijj's 15-Minute Pasta

I make lots of quick pastas; many are ready in less than 20 minutes.

Just because they're quick, does not mean they are not healthy, hearty, and good for you.

Toss some cooked, whole-grain pasta in nothing but a spoonful of olive oil, some garlic, onion, and tomato, and add a tiny smidgen of salt, and not only is your meal ready in a matter of minutes, but represented by a good amount of healthy ingredients, without much in the 'bad' department.  A few grams of fat from the oil and a few milligrams of sodium from the salt is really all.

The single BEST thing about this sort of quick pasta is that they still taste surprisingly great.  Surprising in that you mightn't expect something with this little prep time to still taste delicious.

So, some varieties of these quick pastas, which I cook up on a regular basis, include: pesto pastas, olio pastas, fresh tomato pastas, herbed pastas, cheese pastas.  All of varying sorts.  So, for example, pesto pasta can be green pesto with ricotta ravioli, or red pesto with fettuccine, or any combination thereabouts.  

Pasta 'a la olio' is particularly versatile, and no two are ever really the same.

Anyway, the bottom line here with quick pastas, is you cook up some pasta noodles, and then toss them (or quickly cook them) in a very simple, and usually light, "sauce".  

So, today's feature is just one variation of this 'quick' style of pasta.

I'm not really sure what to call it.  I guess you could call it a Pasta a la Olio, but really, those tend to be a little simpler in terms of the ingredients, and tend to have a bit more oil than this guy.  It is sort of like a pesto pasta, as well, although without pine nuts, and using oregano instead of basil.  I suppose I'd describe it as an 'Origano, Aglio, e Olio' (Oregano, Garlic, and Oil) pasta.

It is yet extremely reminiscent of an olio, however, in terms of how it's constructed.  Cooked noodles, tossed in some oil, with some herbs and spices thrown in.  The principle difference here, and why I don't really want to call this an actual pasta 'a la olio', lies in what I did after tossing the noodles.  Basically I cooked the noodles in the sauce for a few minutes, on high heat, really quick, for reasons of my choosing, which I may make available later on.  ;)

So, in the interests of efficiency (which I'm all about, both in and out of the kitchen) and in order to prove the claim that this can be made in 15 minutes or less, I'll detail the chronology of my preparation.

Start by getting your water on the boil.

I sometimes like to throw in some herbs at this point.  It is, of course, a highly diluted flavour, but it does flavour nonetheless.  In this case, I threw some bay leaves in there.  It's really easy to take those out when you're draining the noodles.  Big-leaved herbs (bay, and basil are good examples) are great for this, however, smaller-leaved herbs like rosemary, thyme, or oregano however often fall off the stem during cooking, and you've got bits of herb stuck to your noodles.  This may or may not be what you're going for... so just be aware.

Next, prepare your sauteing pan.

Dump a fair bit of extra virgin olive oil in there.  I use my flavoured herbes-de-provence oil of my own making.

Fire up this bad boy on medium-low, get the oil somewhat warm.  If you can't chop vegetables very quickly however, you may want to leave the pan off the heat for a bit first... don't want the pan to get HOT.  Because that is the next step:

Chop up some garlic, and onion, and grind some herbs and salt and pepper.

Start with the 'bigger' vegetables first.  So in my case, the white onion.  The reason for this is you can go ahead and throw it in the pan first, while you're still chopping the other things, and it will be OK to simmer for a few more minutes than everything else.

As always, don't just throw your ingredients into a hot pan, but gently place them there, and give the pan a good shake afterwards to toss and to distribute.

Add your other chopped ingredients, as they become available:

And you can let this simmer for about 5 minutes.

By the way, we're assuming here that you're going to put in your noodles the minute your water has started boiling, and drain them as soon as they're done.

This should be happening sometime around now.

Take this brief time while the veggies are sauteing and your pasta is cooking, to grind up some herbs and spices.  In my case, I ground up (a fair bit) of freshly-dried oregano  and some mixed peppercorns with a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.

Once these are ground, throw half into the saute pan, and keep the other half aside for later.  Carefully pick up your pasta pot, and gently pour a few tablespoons of the pasta water into the saute pan.

Turn the heat up on this now to medium-high.  The water will boil off, leaving a fair bit of concentrate behind.  So, a bit of flavour and some starch from the noodles.

The noodles are likely done at this point, so drain them, and then put them right back into the (now-empty) pot that they just came from.

Set them aside - I put them on the stove, but not on any heat - for now.

Now you have a choice.  

You can scrape the 'sauce' right in at this point now, and you'll have a 'chunky' a la olio kind of dealie.  Which is fine, especially if you like bits of garlic and onion for texture - they'd be nice and soft and moderately cooked at this point, so it's definitely an option.

However, I am a BIG fan of texture.  It is often (not exaggerating) what makes or breaks a meal for me.  So, it only takes an extra 30 seconds to give the whole thing a couple of pulses in my highly-efficient immersion blender.

After that, it has an awesome (pesto-like) consistency, and just goes right into the pasta pot.  Make sure you use a floppy spatula to scrape as much as you can!

So, at this point we could certainly just toss and serve, but I have one other, small, step in mind.

Toss the pasta, of course, but then add the other half of your spices, and turn the heat up to high.  Yes, high.  Just don't go anywhere or get distracted.

Now, stirring often, wait for the pasta to literally incorporate the oil.  I suppose you could say that we're frying the noodles in the sauce.  In any case, wait for the noodles to start to sizzle, and possibly begin to brown (a little).  It only takes about 3 minutes.

What you're left with after that, is a gorgeous, dry-ish pasta a la olio, which is (in my opinion) just about perfect.

Feel free to toss some freshly-shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, immediately prior to serving.

 + =

OH man oh man oh man.

Delicious stuff, and really good for you.  It seems like every celebrity chef nowadays is extolling the benefits of quick and easy home-cooked meals in order to break the unfortunate trend in Western households of relying on heavily-processed foods.  Processed foods are the devil in my opinion.  I have never even allowed a jar of pre-made pasta sauce in my house.  Ever.  And why not, when home-made pasta is just as quick, if not quicker?

So, like I said, this is just one iteration of quick pasta.  Throw in a few tomatoes during the puree stage, and you've got a delightfully easy tomato sauce.  Spoon about 75g of pesto into your pot after draining your noodles and you have a dead simple pesto pasta which takes literally only as long as it takes to boil pasta.  You can throw pretty much anything edible in there if you want... it's so fun.

This 15-minute concoction was absolutely gorgeous on the tongue, and not too shabby on the eyes. 

Incidentally, if you're worried about just serving pasta (although, something like this easily has two or three servings of vegetables, and we just don't really think of it because it's in a sauce), like I was this day, it doesn't have to take long to cook up a decent infusion of green veggies as well.  Cook up some peas in a frying pan with a spoonful of water in less than 5 minutes, steam some asparagus in less than 10.  

Or, in my case, bake some green beans in less than 20 minutes:

I pre-heated the oven to 400 at the same time as I put the water on for the pasta.  Then I washed and clipped a couple of servings of green beans, and tossed them in a medium mixing bowl with olive oil, marjoram, and some salt and pepper.  Once fully coated, I laid them out carefully on a baking sheet.

Pop them in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, giving them a couple shakes and at least one turn somewhere in the middle.

These also got a small handful of Parmigiano Reggiano.  Because it was there.  They would have CERTAINLY been delicious without, however.

Um... YUM!