If you are anything like me, you have a pantry full of all shapes, sizes, and styles of pasta (even before the coronavirus quarantine). So much variety! So much promise! And yet, 95% of the time, everyone’s favorite carb ends up just covered in marinara and a blanket of snowy grated parm (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But pasta deserves so much more, and it is time for us all to think a little bit outside the box, as it were, and start giving that beloved pantry staple some new, creative energy.
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Easy never tasted so awesome.
Pasta Upgrade #1: Toast it up!
For starters, think about fundamentally changing the flavor of your pasta itself. Did you know you can toast pasta in the oven or in a frying pan to bring out its inherent nutty, caramelized flavors? Some pastas like fregola (shown above) already come toasted, ready to use in a delicious salad with charred onions and roasted cherry tomatoes. On the other hand, any pilaf recipe (like this Armenian version) has toasting the pasta built into the steps.
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Want to strike out on your own? Toast your pasta in a single layer on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes until it is a golden brown. Then cook as usual for any pasta dish. Or: Consider cooking your pasta in red wine for a hint of flavor and a burst of color: This red wine pasta with shaved Romano cheese is a tasty place to start.
Pasta Upgrade #2: Change up your cooking methods!
Cooking pasta differently can also be a game changer. Using the risotto method of cooking gradually with frequent additions of broth can be a whole new taste sensation for your pasta. Any small shape works well, but orzo is a natural. Try this orzotto with fried eggs or this risotto-style pasta with caramelized onions for two delicious examples. You can use orzo, acini de pepe, or ditalini in any risotto recipe with terrific results.
Craving crispy snacks? Have you ever thought of deep-frying pasta? Whether it is small shapes for snacks you can eat by the handful like these Creole spiced bowties, to breaking up sheets of lasagna and deep frying to make pasta chips for dipping, you’ll be shocked at what a new taste sensation you have created! And let’s be honest: Fried ravioli is an appetizer anyone can get behind, not to mention a great use for your air fryer.
Pasta Upgrade #3: Give it a sweet treatment!
What about taking pasta to a sweet place? Jewish cooks have been making sweet noodle kugels for centuries, and with good reason: These slightly sweet egg noodle puddings can make for a great breakfast/brunch dish or a side dish for a savory meal with equal aplomb. Try a classic version or one that is a little more modern.
Finally, if you make your own pastas, think about this surprising dessert… ravioli! Make a batch of large ravioli but instead of your traditional fillings, fill with your favorite cheesecake batter, or a dollop of Nutella. Boil as usual to cook, then quickly sauté in butter. Once plated, sprinkle with sugar and brulée for a crispy caramelized topping and serve with the fruit compote of your desire. It’s a dream dessert and just the cure for your pandemic pantry blues.
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