When I first saw references to this one-pan method of making pasta, I was skeptical…
Surely it couldn’t be possible to cook the sauce and the pasta all at once in the same pan, skipping the pasta-boiling step? It seemed to violate every rule of Italian cooking. But then I realized that the method is not really so far from a risotto. The bonus of this technique — aside from incredible speed and ease and minimal washing up — is that the pasta is seasoned by the sauce as it cooks and becomes deeply flavored with wine, aromatics, stock, whatever you choose to add. It works with any shape of pasta — but a good quality brand makes a big difference — and almost any combination of vegetables and other flavorings, such as anchovies or cured meats. You just have to be careful to measure the ratio of pasta to water accurately, use a wide shallow frying pan or sauté pan (it won’t work in a tall, narrow saucepan) and be generous with your seasoning.
On leisurely evenings, I still prefer the time-honored process of cooking the noodles and the sauce separately (a method that my youngest son now calls “Muggle Pasta” to distinguish it from “Magic Pasta”). And yet, I can’t urge you strongly enough to learn this technique and have it in your head for when you are in a pinch and you need a hot meal right now.
I made a version of it with cauliflower and chorizo for a late lunch the day of my father-in-law’s socially distanced funeral. Because of the pandemic, family members stood in a cold and empty parking lot trying to make gestures of love and sorrow to one another from behind our masks. When the children and I finally arrived back home, we felt flat and insatiably hungry. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting down to a warming and savory tangle of linguini with chorizo and flecks of saffron-yellow cauliflower. We were still grieving but at least we didn’t feel quite so empty inside.
My favorite version of this pasta is a variant made with mushrooms and garlic and cream and wine. It’s a dish that is very kind on the cook, and the deep umami quality comforts me to my core.
Magic Pasta with Mushrooms, Garlic, Cream and Wine
Serves 1 (can be doubled, tripled, etc, but make sure you are using a wide shallow pan)
4 ounces mushrooms (I usually make it with brown button but any kind will do)
3 1/2 ounces pasta, any kind that says on the package that it will cook in 10 minutes (I favor linguini here but penne also works)
1–2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
Knob of unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons white wine or vermouth
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Squeeze of lemon
Parmesan, to serve
Grate the mushrooms coarsely on a box grater (or blitz them in a food processor). Put all the ingredients up to and including the white wine into a wide frying pan or sauté pan (keeping back a handful of the parsley) and add 1/3 teaspoon of salt and 1 2/3 cups of water from a freshly boiled kettle. It will look wrong putting wet and dry ingredients together so haphazardly but have faith — it will all come together. Put over high heat and bring to a boil with the lid on. Continue to simmer with the lid on for 5 minutes, checking and stirring every minute. Now remove the lid and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more with the lid off, stirring frequently with tongs or a wooden spoon. If it looks dry or if the pasta isn’t cooked, add another splash of water, but you don’t want it to go too soupy. (Creamy, yes; soupy, no.) Continue to cook, testing pieces of pasta, until it is done to your liking. Add the cream and squeeze of lemon. Test for seasoning. Serve with the reserved parsley and parmesan on top. Devour.
This recipe was excerpted from Bee Wilson’s wonderful new book, The Secret of Cooking: Recipes for an Easier Life in the Kitchen.
P.S. Stress-free family dinners and things I wish I knew when I started cooking.
(Photo by Matt Russell.)