10 Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life

~ 5 ingredients 30 minutes basics dinner & chill easy mains that noodle life
Only 6 ingredients and 15 minutes stand between you and every great weeknight pasta ever
Posted July 3, 2019 by Mike

When you don’t have time or energy for a slow, carefully simmered ragu with layers upon layers of flavors but still want pasta, you basically have two options: go to your friendly neighborhood hopefully high end pasta joint, or make a quick and easy weeknight homemade fix. Even though we are lucky enough to live 1 block away from a great pasta place that makes fresh pasta each morning, I’ll choose the homemade option pretty much every time because it’s just as fast, often tastier, and with the bonus of no pants needed.

The truth of the matter is, you can make a fast restaurant quality pasta dish at home with no recipe at all if you follow the simple framework of fat + cured meat + aromatics + liquid + cheese + star. Within this framework, you can riff it into a million recipes. Is it payday or a big celebration? Splurge on uni. Feeling poor? Go all veg. In fact, it might be tempting to go for a big meat thing, but the best pastas are often veg forward. There’s nothing better than a nice brown butter stinging nettle wild fennel pasta thing.

Breaking it down:

1. The Fat: use butter or high quality olive oil, and do at least 1 tablespoon per serving. The fat coats the pasta and carries the flavor, it’s important.
2. Cured Meat: this is a quick and fast way to build flavor without slow simmering a sofritto all day long. I prefer guanciale, it’s cheap, keeps forever, and it’s incredibly smoky and tasty. Pancetta is nice as well and proscuitto has its place, but guanciale is the go-to cured meat for me.
3. Aromatics: try to go beyond the usual garlic and onions if you can. Fennel, mushrooms, sage, etc are all good options here.
4. The Liquid: wine, sodium free broth, or milk. Not too much, and the choice is not as important as it may seem.
5. The Cheese: this is where you should go big. Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, and more, the cheese is where the big flavor hit lies and is usually the difference between the stuff you have at home and the stuff they charge $25 a plate for in restaurants. I like to go 1/4 cup in the sauce and 1/4 cup to finish per serving here. That is indeed 1/2 cup of finely shredded cheese per serving. Splurge on the best cheese you can afford.
6. The Star: this is the differentiator and makes your pasta, you. Pick what’s in season, what’s cheap, and what you feel like. Uni, Tuna, Nettles, Peas, and so on. Nothing is off limits.

Within the framework, just follow the steps below.

1. Heat the fat, and then crisp the cured meat.
2. Add the aromatics: add onions and its relatives until translucent, brown and crisp the garlic, soften anything else.
3. Add liquid and reduce by half.
4. Add cheese and stir until an emulsified sauce forms.
5. Lastly, add your star ingredients.

In addition to the framework, here are 10 tips and tricks to getting the best pasta of your life:

Tip #1: Choose fresh or high quality bronze extruded dried pasta. Or, if you get a chitarra, you can buy a ball of good fresh pasta, roll it out fairly thin, and cut it with the chitarra into tagliatelle, which is what I did here (although we made our pasta fresh instead of buying it).
Tip #2: Make the right amount of sauce, which is about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of liquid per serving. In this recipe, I’ve combined 2 tablespoons of oil with about 2 tablespoons of rendered fat from the guanciale and 1/4 cup of wine (after reduction) to make just a little more than 1/2 cup of sauce for two servings.
Tip #3: Always sauce in the pan. I like to cook my pasta 3 minutes from the package time, and then transfer to the pan along with some pasta water for its last 3 minutes. This guarantees glossy, super flavorful, properly sauced noodles every time.
Tip #4: Never rinse your pasta. Pasta goes directly from pasta pan to sauce pan with no break in between, ideally without even hitting a colander.
Tip #5: Transfer the pasta from the pot to the sauce with tongs or a spider. This lets you save the pasta water, which in turn helps you build a thick glossy sauce.
Tip #6: Always think about the cheese. Cheese is one important leg of the pasta pyramid (the other two are the aromatics and the star).
Tip #7: Make it spicy. If you can handle spice, a lot of good Italian food isn’t authentic without the spice hit.
Tip #8: Don’t forget seafood. Italy is mostly coastline, and some of the best pastas I’ve ever had were seafood based. Uni, octopus, squid, tuna, and salmon are all great pasta stars. Of course, we can’t forget the most well known one: clams.
Tip #9: Add really delicate flavors in at the end. Cooking can destroy flavors, so don’t be afraid to drop in some items near the end and let the heat of the pasta cook them.
Tip #10: Highlight the season: fresh herbs and veg in summer, seafood in winter

With all this in mind, this is a super easy, 6 ingredient weeknight pasta made with whatever was in our fridge. It was amazing: the umami from the cheese + mushrooms, the slightly bitter note of the red chard, and the smoky, pepperiness of the guanciale combined to create something far more than the sum of its parts. It serves 2. I ate half. Then I ate the other half, with no regrets.

What do you need?

A nonstick skillet, a pot big enough to boil pasta, and a pair of tongs (or chopsticks even).

Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

15 minute weeknight pasta recipe #603: Tagliatelle with guanciale, mushrooms, and red chard
Serves 2


  • 1/2 cup guanciale, finely chopped
  • 2 leaves red chard, roughly sliced
  • 2 large crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
  • 6oz pasta of choice

1. Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil. Add your pasta and set the timer for 3 minutes before the package time.
Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

2. Preheat a nonstick skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter. Crisp the guanciale and cook the mushrooms over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

3. Add the wine and reduce by half.
Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

4. Add half of the cheese and stir until a glossy sauce forms
Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

5. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain and transfer the pasta without rinsing to your skillet (or just use tongs). Add the red chard and toss with the pasta and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water until it is cooked to your liking and a glossy sauce forms (about 3 minutes). Add extra pasta water, sparingly, if needed.
Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

6. Top with the remaining cheese and taste. Season with salt and pepper if needed, then plate. Enjoy immediately.
Tips and tricks for making the best weeknight pasta of your life | www.iamafoodblog.com

Comments

  1. Sabrina says:

    great walk through and tips, especially useful at the end of a workday when I don’t want to have to think any more about technique, ingredients or much of anything, thank you

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