This is a story of two extremes. On one hand there is my compulsion to be extravagant and a show off, versus my need for ease and convenience. This dichotomy is reminiscent of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, except focused on food rather than evil. One will overrule the other in the end. And it’s all told through the perspective of homemade versus one-pot pasta.
As a birthday treat, I made pasta from scratch.
No, it wasn’t someone else’s birthday. It’s not like I took on the responsibility and pressure of dinner to give them a day off from the stove and relax on their birthday. It was my birthday.
I spoilt myself with the ambitious and absolutely not relaxing task of making fresh pasta. For me, this was perfect.
What do we all really want on our birthdays? That honest, yet annoyingly rational voice in my head is meekly saying, ‘I really want to be the centre of attention.’ For me, there is no stage I crave more than in the kitchen, in the spotlight that is in the kitchen hood above the stove.
I painstakingly rolled pasta dough with a rolling pin, cut them into rough strips – an eyeballer’s guess at pappardelle – and draped them over the kitchen chairs to dry. (My sister texted, querying the hygiene of this. I can see her point but after all, you do vigorously boil the pasta.)
Once cooked and hot and silky, the pasta was gently folded into homemade sausage ragù, rich with cream and rosemary.
Contrary to this annual spectacle, my other preoccupation is to make it as easy as possible. Hence, one-pot pasta.
Everyone has a repertoire of easy pasta recipes – tuna mayo, pesto, carbonara, or my personal childhood favourite, spaghetti a la Clara – but they can become a stuck record. I ate enough pesto pasta with green beans at uni ten years ago, I’d like to think there’s more up my sleeve these days. Then Anna Jones and her incredible one-pot pasta came on the scene.
And it literally is one-pot. Fill your high-sided frying pan, or a shallow casserole dish, with dried pasta, a little boiling water, and a tumble of tomatoes and other vegetables which only require a ten minute simmer in glossy pasta water, and before your eyes it transforms into a sauce clinging to the pasta like a slinky dress.
I adapted the recipe slightly, adding long green stalks of broccoli, chilli and capers, and creamy mascarpone which you mix in at the end, to make this one-pot seem a little more luxurious. Maybe sophisticated enough for a birthday dinner.
In that case, the one-pot pasta wins.
One-pot pasta with tomato, lemon and mascarpone
- 160 g dried spaghetti
- 200 g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 80 g tenderstem broccoli
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp mascarpone
- 2 tsp capers rinsed
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fill a high sided frying pan (which has a lid) with the linguine, halved cherry tomatoes, trimmed broccoli, chilli flakes, lemon zest, and a little salt. Boil the kettle and pour 500ml hot water over the ingredients.
- Set the pan over high heat and bring to the boil with the lid on. When steam starts escaping the pan, remove the lid and lower the temperature to a simmer. Stir to ensure all the pasta is in the water and none of it is clumped together.
- Put the lid back on and leave it to steam for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and stir as the water evaporates and the pasta continues to cook for another three or four minutes. Taste a piece of linguine – if it is soft with a bit of a bite then it is ready. The remaining pasta water should be silky and clinging to the linguine.
- Stir in the spoonful of mascarpone and the rinsed capers, along with a big squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve with grated parmesan.
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