There is no food I can evangelise about more than pasta. The toothsome chew, a silky sauce that hugs each piece … It cooks in little more than 10 minutes, it’s an unrivalled vehicle for flavour and it sates the appetite whatever the season (but most excellently as the months grow colder).
As a young chef, I spent a lot of time in a kitchen that championed Italian cuisine, so my cooking is rooted in that tradition. There are five things I learned there about cooking pasta. For keen cooks, pasta enthusiasts and Italians, none of this will be new, and many will have their own ideas, but these are the things that work for me:
1 Water. Your cooking water should be salted like the sea, and there should be plenty of it – 1 litre for every 100g of pasta. Crucially, it should be at a rolling boil when you add your pasta because the pasta will cool the water.
2 Al dente. Pasta continues to cook in the hot sauce and even more as it sits on the plate. I cook mine to be a minute or so under exactly how I like it, just before it hits al dente.
3 Reserve a cup of cooking water. Before you drain your pasta, keep back a cup of the water to add to the sauce later. The starch in it helps bring the pasta and sauce together.
4 Mix. I always add my pasta to the warm pan of sauce. I mix them together with a wooden spoon or tongs, at which point I add some of the pasta water. I am not a fan of pasta and sauce served separately.
5 Oil. Most of my sauces are vegetable-based so I am generous with the amount of olive oil I add (it’s not needed as much with sauces that contain dairy or meat). It adds flavour, a lush texture and some richness.
Slow-cooked leek pappardelle with crispy white beans and lemon
4 large leeks
Salt and black pepper
400g tin of cannellini beans, drained
A handful of green olives, stoned and chopped
A few sprigs of basil
50g of pecorino, grated
1 Cut the leeks in half lengthways, then wash well under cold running water. Cut way the root and then cut away the tough green top and then cut the leek in half, giving you long lengths of leek not too different to the pappardelle.
2 Heat the butter in a large frying pan, add the leeks and put over a low heat. Cook gently until the leeks are soft, silky and cooked through. Season well.
3 Pat your drained beans dry with kitchen paper and season them well. Put another small frying pan over a high heat, add some olive oil and, once it’s hot, add the beans. Cook for a few minutes, stirring all the time until the beans are crisp on the outside. Watch out as one or two may pop and bounce out of the pan.
4 Once the leeks are cooked, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until it is al dente.
5 Meanwhile, add the olives to the leeks and tear in most of the basil, add the zest of ½ the lemon and the juice of the whole lemon and heat gently.
6 Once the pasta is cooked, drain it (reserving a cupful of the cooking water) and add it to the pan with the leeks. Add a good grating of pecorino and toss to mix everything together. Finish with the last of the basil leaves and some shavings of pecorino.
- Anna Jones is a chef, writer and author of A Modern Way to Eat and A Modern Way to Cook (Fourth Estate); annajones.co.uk; @we_are_food
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