Five Things I Learned from Food TV: Day 5 - The Lidia Pasta Technique
Friday, December 15, 2006 | posted by Mike
OK...I've spent the week covering major themes like "ingredients" and "technique." I just want to take this Friday to tell you about one very specific thing that I have learned from food television, one that has probably made the biggest impact on my culinary abilities. Plus, it's amazingly simple, so you have no excuse to not get on the bandwagon, too.
Growing up, we would have pasta at least once a week. It was always on Tuesday, although I think we may have added another night or two of pasta dinners during Little League season, in order to get us out of the house quickly. Dinner would be ready and we would all sit down to the table and my mother would bring out a bowl of marinara sauce and a large bowl of plain, cooked pasta. We'd each take our portion of the pasta as quickly as possible and would ladle the sauce over it, stirring it in order to keep the whole thing from turning into one large, starchy lump. We were usually successful, but it took some serious tossing to get it all coated.
Once I was out on my own, the process was pretty much the same. Jar of sauce gets heated on the stove, box of pasta gets cooked in the water and they both meet up in the bowl right before I chow down. But, then, I saw something on a television show that changed everything.
Lidia Bastianich had always been that person on PBS who I skipped over as I was looking for something to watch on a Saturday afternoon. Sure, the Italian food she was cooking looked good, but I wasn't really a gourmet chef or anything, so why did I care? But she did something with the pasta she was preparing that made me take notice.
Not only was she making her own sauce from scratch, but she was doing it in a big, stainless steel pan while also cooking the pasta. (Fairly normal so far.) When the pasta was close to being done, she lifted it out of the water and put it in the pan. (Kinda weird, but OK.) Then, she took a ladle of the pasta water and poured it into the pan, letting the noodles cook along with the sauce for a minute or two. (Now, that's just crazy!)
But she explained why she did it. How the water could be used to make sure the sauce had the right consistency. How cooking the pasta with the sauce for a minute or two ensured that the the noodles were coated and the flavor developed.
I gave it a try, cooking her quick tomato sauce (canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper and some fresh basil) and it was a revelation. The noodles and sauce just "went together" better than I had ever been able to do before and it was just one of those simple little tricks that every Italian chef knows. Unfortunately, not growing up in a particularly "Italian" household, it was never something that I learned. But, now, I had found it and my pasta dishes have never been a disappointment since.
And I learned it by watching food TV.
Labels: Lidia Bastianich