One-Pan Pasta Dinner

Simple, quick and delicious. I'm in!

Simple, quick and delicious. I’m in!

Have you seen the one-pan pasta recipe that’s flying around the internet? It’s a great way to use fresh tomatoes and basil that are so good right now.The idea is that everything goes into the pan and cooks at once. Although I think it’s been around for a long time, Martha Stewart Living recently published the recipe and got the buzz going. I read about it at Smitten Kitchen where Deb complained that the pasta was on the mushy side of al dente and revised the recipe using farro as the main ingredient. That farro version is truly delicious will go into my favorite dinners notebook. In fact it was so good that I became curious about the pasta version and tried Martha’s recipe. Deb was right. By the time the sauce had reduced enough, the pasta was too far gone.

Bring it all to a rolling boil, stir for 10 minutes and eat

Bring it all to a boil, stir,eat.

I wanted to make this recipe work. The idea of a true one-pan meal that is healthy, easy, quick and really good was so appealing that I couldn’t resist trying. Paul would happily eat pasta every night so he was thrilled with my repeated experimentation. I’ve always wondered why you need so much water to cook pasta. It takes forever to come to a boil and then it all goes down the drain except a half cup or so that might be used to thicken sauce. Well, it turns out that you don’t need gallons of water and best of all you don’t have to drain the pasta or wash the colander! My changes to Martha’s recipe include using a heartier type of pasta and reducing the amount of water.

The finished product.

Dinner is served!

 

I’ve tried lots of one pot meals and have rarely been satisfied. This one’s different. It’s not a compromise, something you’d only want to make when you’re short on time. Thanks to the principles of evaporation and absorption, it works and it’s darned good! We’ve served the final recipe to two sets of guests so far and everyone loves it. It’s beautiful, ridiculously simple and can be prepared ahead of time. Use a hearty, high-quality dried pasta and the results will make you happy! I haven’t experimented with whole wheat or other pastas, but suspect they would become too soft. Let me know your thoughts if you try alternative pastas.

 

One Pan Pasta that Works (Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Living)

3-4 servings as a main dish, 8 as a side

INGREDIENTS

 12 ounces dried penne rigate, small rigatoni or orecchiette

1 large red onion sliced thinly, root to stem (about 2 cups)

12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes halved, or quartered if they’re large

4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced

2 generous sprigs of basil plus torn leaves for serving

2 tablespoons olive oil p;us more for serving

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

4 cups of water

Grated parmesan for serving

PREPARATION

Place all ingredients except parmesan and torn basil in a wide skillet with straight sides (If you’re prepping ahead, don’t add the water until you’re ready to cook). Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Set the timer for 8 minutes and continue to boil, stirring often. Test the pasta for doneness at 8 minutes and cook another minute or two if needed. Serve with torn basil, parmesan and olive oil.

NOTES: Yellow or white onions will work just fine. Red ones look and taste great and add nice texture. If you want to double the recipe, make two batches side-by-side for best results. A wide dutch oven will work if you don’t have a straight-sided skillet. Evaporation is important so it must be a wide pan. Finally, if you want to use fresh chopped tomatoes, the plum variety is best. For juicier tomatoes, reduce the water by 1/4 cup.  If you want your pasta on the soft side, add more water after the 8-minute test.

 

 

 

 

 

 

World’s Best Bacon

Back in June I won a pie-baking contest and one of the prizes was a pound of bacon. A pound of  bacon may not seem that exciting, but when it’s Benton’s Bacon it changes everything. It’s slow-smoked over in Madisonville, Tennessee with hickory wood. The only ingredients are bacon, salt, sugar, black pepper and smoke combined according to a secret family recipe. I’ve heard people say that Benton’s is the world’s best bacon and they sometimes have to wait a month to get an order of the delicious stuff. As you can imagine, Paul and I were feeling a little pressure as we tried to decide what to do with this fabulous bacon.

IMG_2852BLTs seemed like the way to go on a late July afternoon. Tomatoes don’t really come in here in the mountains until August and the world’s best bacon had already lurked in the freezer for a solid month, so we settled for some excellent slicers from a nearby county where it’s flatter and warmer. Daring people that we are, we flaunted tradition and chose a locally made bread over toasted white slices. The handmade bread was 50/50 white and wheat Carolina Ground flour, with a rustic texture and a top crust of sesame seeds. It’s made by Tara at Smoke Signals Bakery. She even grows some of her own grains.

World's Best Bacon in the pan.

World’s Best Bacon in the pan.

IMG_2867As soon as that hickory scented smoke start coming off the bacon, I was hooked. The slices stayed nice and thick and caramelized beautifully. Only two slices needed for a divine sandwich. Even Paul, who has a hollow leg when it comes to food, agreed that  a few slices were enough. Smoke Signals bread, Benton’s bacon, mayo, beefy red tomato slices and a little salt and pepper pretty much add up to heaven on a plate.

Waiting for the bacon.

Waiting for the bacon.

 

Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!

IMG_2877

I could tell you about the black bean salad we had on the side, but let’s face it; nothing else really matters when you have the perfect BLT in your hand.  The bacon had just the right amount of hickory smoke, a firm texture and crisp edges that made it the main character. We swooned. After we’d picked ourselves up off the floor and finished a sandwich plus an unadulterated slice each, I went right to the computer and ordered more Benton’s Bacon. What kind of person orders bacon on the internet you might ask? All I can say is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Did I mention the ultra-flavorful bacon grease that was left in the pan?  When I was a kid, Mom had this silver canister with a lid that sat beside the stove. It had a strainer in the top that you poured the grease through to get remove the cooked bits. The strained grease was stored in the bottom and used to flavor beans, greens, cornbread and lots of other good things.

Many years ago I quit saving, deciding that I would be healthier without that bacon grease. Thank goodness I came to my senses a while back and started saving again. It only takes a small spoonful to add lots of flavor to a dish and it’s really a shame to waste all that goodness. That little bit of Benton’s grease has flavored pots of home-grown collard greens and kale and some delicious spoonbread made with our own eggs and Long’s Valley Farm cornmeal.

Guess you could say Benton’s is the bacon that just keeps on giving!