It’s late. You’re hungry, tired. You reach for a take-out menu, but have second thoughts. Colu Henry knows the feeling. In fact, it inspired her to write “Back Pocket Pasta.”
“The concept is if you shop seasonally and have a well-stocked pantry, then you can pull together a beautiful pasta dinner in the same amount of time it takes you to boil water,” said the author. “I’m a home cook too. I worked in the culinary and wine field for 15 years, but these recipes were really born out of necessity.”
She recently appeared at Terrain in Glen Mills, sharing recipes, stories and tips like “save that pasta water,” starchy gold for a great sauce. But first, “make sure you salt your water really well,” Henry advised. “Add more salt than you think you need.”
“There’s nothing worse than having really flavorful sauce and really bland pasta because there’s no seasoning in the water,” agreed Bravo’s “Top Chef” Jason Cichonski, owner of Ela and Little Noodle Pasta Co. in Philadelphia.
Try his spring pea pistou – a hit at last year’s Celebrity Cook-Off to Fight Hunger in King of Prussia. The annual fundraiser returns April 26.
“Pistou is just a fancy French word for pesto,” he explained. “It’s essentially a bunch of fresh herbs and seasonings and ground-up peas that’s really delicious on pasta.”
Gemelli complements this “versatile, very simple to make at home recipe with a lot of flavor,” said Cichonski, who’s also included clams or, for contrast, tossed the pasta “over a rich, dark mole with roasted poblano peppers.”
However you serve it, remember: “The better your original ingredients, the better the final dish ultimately tastes.”
Spring Pea PistouIngredients1 cup English peas
1/3 cup good olive oil¼ cup (about 3 stems) basil leaves
¼ cup (about 3 stems) mint leaves
1 lemon’s worth of lemon zest¼ cup pecorino, grated
Pinch chili flake¼ cup toasted grilled almonds
3 cloves garlic, minced½ teaspoon salt
Pepper, to tasteInstructionsBring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Set up an ice bath. Blanch the peas about 2 to 3 minutes until tender and ice down immediately. Blanch the basil and mint leaves together 15 seconds and ice down immediately. In a food processor, add the almonds, garlic, chili flake, lemon zest, salt and cheese and pulse 10 or 15 times until rough chopped and well mixed. Add the herbs and peas and process for 30 seconds. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil slowly until the pistou is creamy and all well combined. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Will keep in an airtight container refrigerated for 1 week, or freeze for later use. This recipe is great served hot as a meal or side, or cold as a pasta salad on your favorite “Little Noodle” pasta. It also makes a great dip for carrots and pita or an awesome condiment for baked fish!
RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF JASON CICHONSKI
Smoky Garganelli Alla VodkaColu Henry writes: Who doesn’t love an easy-to-assemble Italian-American classic? Plus, who doesn’t have a bottle of vodka tucked away in their freezer for when the Russian side of the family visits? (I’m always prepared for when my cousin-in-law Igor comes by!) No matter where you’re from, this comforting dish will please—and to bring out its retro Italian vibes, serve this with Caesar salad, garlic bread, and Chianti. Cue the Sinatra. Serves 4
IngredientsKosher salt ¾ pound garganelli or penne
2 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped 4 ounces ’nduja (see cook’s note), optional
¾ cup vodka 1 (28-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper ¾ cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
InstructionsBring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt and return to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce: Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the ’nduja (if using) and cook, stirring until it begins to melt, about 2 minutes. Add the vodka to skillet and cook for 2 minutes more to reduce by half. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the cream, and cook 1 minute more. Add the pasta and grated cheese directly to the skillet and toss to coat. Plate in bowls and top with the oregano and parsley. Top with additional cheese and salt and pepper, if desired.
Cook’s Note: I upped the ante here by including ’nduja, a spicy, spreadable salami from Calabria, for some heat; for a meat-free dish, substitute straightforward red pepper flakes. You’ll lose the smokiness of the dish, but it will still taste great.
RECIPE COURTESY OF “BACK POCKET PASTA”