Pasta 2.0

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I think there are some basic kitchen rules that everyone should know. They are some of my tenements of cooking, rules to live by. They include:

  1. Never put anything sharp in a sink full of soapy water.
  2. Always have butter and Parmesan in your house. They can turn anything (potato, pasta, rice, veg, bread) into a meal.
  3. When in doubt, or short of time, toasted bread with whatever foodstuff you have put on top usually makes a great appetizer – try cooked, mashed frozen peas with some olive oil, crushed garlic and Parmesan. Easy peasy, if you’ll pardon the pun.
  4. Not many people can really tell if you’ve used stock cubes rather than fresh. Save yourself the trouble.
  5. Always cook pasta in loads of boiling, heavily salted water. And not some silly pinch of salt. Heavy. It should taste like salty water from the sea.

Rules #5 is quite an important one in my books. Nothing worse than when someone cooks pasta in a small pot of water with a meagre amount of salt. Ick. Bland. Boring. Awful.

Hold on a minute.

One weekend this summer, as I sat happily by the seaside, indulging in a favourite pastime of flipping through food and cooking magazines, I came upon a pasta recipe that was so crazy, so contrary to everything I had ever been taught, and so against all the rules of pasta cooking that it shocked me to my core. It couldn’t work. It shouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work. But there it was, staring up at me, taunting me from the hallowed pages of Martha Stewart magazine, a tome held by some as almost biblical in the world of home and garden magazines. How could Martha recommend something that was this wrong??

The pasta was cooked in a saucepan with a fixed amount of water and tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili and basil that would become the sauce. The water would become the sauce. No draining, no shaking, no tossing in olive oil. Pasta, water and other ingredients become one. Absurd right? Totally. Or maybe, maybe it might just work.

We decided to test out this recipe while visiting our friends in France this past August. The night was warm, the kids were in bed, and frankly if the meal completely failed I knew we had bread (please see tip #3 above) and enough wine to make up for any dinner disasters.

Well. What can I say except wow. It worked. Pasta tossed in simmering water, water reducing while tomatoes and aromatics are softly poaching in the starchy flavoursome water, all fusing together into the one pot meal to end all one pot meals. Shocking. “Kind of like risotto but with pasta”, my friend remarked. And she was right. And it was delicious. Pasta 2.0 – the way forward.

One-Pan Pasta – from Martha Stewart Living, June 2013

Serves 4

Summer 2013 (Nick's camera) 120

  • 12 oz linguine
  • 12 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  1. Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil mixture, stirring and turning the pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil.  Serve with oil and Parmesan.

Tried and true


Cooking means different things to different people.  For some, it is feeding their family.  For others, it is a hobby.  For many, it is a chore.

Cooking is what I do to relax, for fun, and to entertain myself at the end of a day. There is nothing I like more than reading food magazines and planning dinner parties, scanning favourite recipe websites for new things to try, flipping through cookbooks and dreaming of canapé receptions. But in recent months that has all changed drastically. I have…a new job.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my new job. And we still eat. We cook dinner nearly every day, and I still cook a few times a week, especially on the weekends. It’s the time that has been lacking lately, but not my love of cooking.  Some days I am just too tired to even think about being creative when it comes to dinner.

One of my favourite Saturday morning activities is sifting through an enormous pile of recipe clippings and choosing two or three new dishes to try over the week.  But some Saturdays I am scribbling down a quick menu from “the repertoire”. You know the repertoire. We all have one. The things we can cook quickly with little fuss, common ingredients, and not much thinking.

So many of us face this dilemma regularly – what do I cook for dinner tonight?  When the pressures of life don’t give you a lot of time to think about this question, we turn to quick and easy meals that are etched into our brains.  I’m sure you have a recipe or two that you can make from memory, using mostly store cupboard ingredients and not a lot of thought or effort required.  Growing up my Dad used to refer to these meals as “Default Dinners”.  In those days, our family default dinners involved things ready-made in the freezer combined with instant foods in the cupboard (can you say frozen breaded veal cutlets and instant scalloped potatoes?).  But over the past few months, I have discovered that quite a few of my own default dinners can be quick and easy, but still home-made and wholesome.

I am very lucky to have a husband that loves to cook and enjoys following a recipe, so even on the nights that I’m too tired to cook we eat well. As I thought more about it I decided that just because it comes from the repertoire, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious and worth sharing with others.  So for the next few posts, I will be sharing recipes from our super collection of Default Dinners!

Today’s default dinner is a favourite of ours, because there are very few fresh ingredients, and the result is a rich and creamy fish risotto that can be put together from start to finish in about 30 minutes.  I buy smoked haddock from our fish monger and cut and freeze it into portions just perfect for this dish.  Dill is another great ingredient that can be frozen easily – a quick chop of frozen sprigs of dill added to any dish, and you’ll probably never know that this herb wasn’t fresh from the greengrocer. Butter, onions, garlic, rice, and parmesan are all store cupboard ingredients, and chicken stock cubes are a great substitute when fresh stock isn’t an option.  Throw together a quick green salad on the side, and you’re zero to dinner in about 30 minutes!

Smoked Haddock and Dill Risotto

(adapted from, Serves 4


50 g butter

Onion, finely diced

Garlic, 1-2 cloves chopped

300 g risotto rice

100 ml white wine (cooking sherry is a good substitute)

1.2 litres chicken stock, hot (from a cube is fine)

200 g smoked haddock, skinned and boned and finely sliced

2 tbsp chopped dill

2 tbsp chopped parsley (or double the dill if you don’t have both)

50 g grated parmesan

4 tbsp crème fraiche

  1. Melt the butter in a wide shallow pan and gently cook the onion until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the risotto rice and cook for 2 minutes, coating the rice in the onion and butter.  Stir in the wine and cook until nearly evaporated.  Add the hot stock a ladle at a time, stirring continuously and keeping the heat high enough for the rice to gently simmer while adding the stock.  Keep adding the stock bit by bit until the rice is cooked but still has a slight bite and a creamy consistency.  This should take around 15-20 minutes.
  2. Stir in the smoked haddock, dill, parsley and parmesan.  Leave to stand for 3 minutes – the heat of the risotto will cook the haddock.  Serve in warm bowls with a dollop of crème fraiche and a spring of dill.