Eating in: breadcrumbs of comfort
As lockdown continues, more of us are getting creative to produce DIY dishes at home
17 April, 2020 — By Tom Moggach
FIRST came the struggle to buy pasta, faced with empty supermarket shelves. Now, a few weeks later, we face a new dilemma. You’ve stockpiled spaghetti – but how best to cook it?
As a nation, we’re not known for our pasta prowess. Italians will say our efforts are often oily, overcooked and under-seasoned.
During lockdown, many of us will have the time to improve on our cooking skills. In fact, people are finding surprising satisfaction in preparing meals from scratch.
With pasta dishes, always get the sauce ready first. Never leave cooked pasta steaming in the colander as this results in a slimy, clumpy texture.
For a straightforward, no-cook tomato sauce, use a liquidiser or blender to blitz either fresh tomatoes, tinned tomatoes or sieved tomatoes (passata) with any herbs and seasonings you have to hand.
Extra flavourings might include a pinch of salt, raw garlic, fresh chilli, tinned anchovies, pitted olives or any fresh herbs.
Alternatively, get creative with a do-it-yourself pesto. You could combine grated cheddar with nuts and parsley, perhaps, or even rocket from a supermarket salad bag.
To add a crunchy topping to any pasta, upcycle stale bread by making your own breadcrumbs.
Bake slices or chunks of old bread in an oven at very low heat. When fully dried out, crumble onto pasta dishes.
A grating of lemon zest is another simple addition.
I love adding frozen peas to pasta, defrosted first using the same pot. Position a sieve or colander over the boiling pasta water to steam the peas. Then mix them into the cooked pasta just before serving.
To cook any pasta shape, the basic principles are exactly the same. First, choose a large saucepan – something with plenty of extra room.
Fill with water, bring to a rolling boil, salt generously and add the pasta. (Never add oil to the cooking water).
A few minutes before the pasta is ready, carefully scoop out some of the cooking water using a cup. This cloudy liquid is precious: full of starch and useful for lubricating your dish later.
Drain the cooked pasta then immediately add it, still piping hot and dripping with water, to the sauce and stir to combine.
At this stage, it’s all about lubrication. You want your pasta to be loose and slippery. If too dry, add a splash of your saved cooking water.
Of course, the ultimate next step is to make the pasta yourself. I’ve done this a couple of times and you don’t need a fancy machine. It’s also a fun activity for fidgety children.
But it does rely on finding decent flour for the pasta dough – another ingredient that’s been scarce in the shops.