Pasta water, sauteed spinach, and more things that once baffled me

The theme of tonight’s dinner was “new.”  New new new new new!

I’ve been seeing quite a few recipes that call for “pasta water.”  At first, seeing this on a list of ingredients was an automatic pass on a recipe.  I envisioned something along the lines of cooking pasta and then mixing it with water and pureeing it.  Gross?  Absolutely.  But I’ve seen stranger things in my culinary adventures thus far.

After learning that pasta water is simply the water in which pasta is cooked, I let out a huge sigh of relief.  The recipe I’d been eying calls for a cup of pasta water and I was thrilled to discover that it would not require filling my blender with cooked pasta.  Not only that, but this particular recipe uses mascarpone cheese–something I recently purchased for the first time, despite having no idea what it tastes like.  Also, an optional step in this recipe is to cook fresh spinach.  I’ve cooked plenty of frozen spinach–well, I’ve dumped plenty of frozen spinach in a pot of boiling water–but the only handling of fresh spinach I’ve done is toss it in a bowl and drench it in salad dressing.

So, the recipe is for Lemon Pasta with Mascarpone, Prosciutto di Parma, and Spinach.  However, I did make some slight alterations.  First, I eliminated the lemon.  Not because I didn’t want it, but because I didn’t have a lemon and didn’t much feel like going to the store for only a lemon.  I find myself in this predicament a lot.  Why can’t I just live in the grocery store?  Anyway.  I also added a couple of ingredients:  chicken and broccoli.

I’m not sure why I can’t seem to master mise en place, but I SUCK AT IT!  The recipe even contains a warning that it’s important to have everything prepped and ready, because once you get going the process is quick.  I gathered about half of the ingredients and thought, Welllll, I can do the rest while the pasta boils and the chicken cooks.  My plan failed and I once again found myself scrambling to wash measuring cups and utensils that I hadn’t cleaned beforehand.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as my recent bechamel disaster, but it was still a wake-up call telling me to get my freaking shit together.  Good cooks are organized cooks.

When it came time to whisk together the pasta water and mascarpone, I gave myself a good scare.  At first, it was so watery you couldn’t even tell the mixture was mostly cheese.  I stared regretfully at the skillet, positive I had ruined dinner again with another runny sauce.  But I let it sit a few minutes and it thickened up quite a bit.  It was actually quite delicious!

Nom nom.

So, silly confession:  before I purchased the mascarpone used in tonight’s dinner, I had pictured its texture being more like that of Gouda.  When I saw it came in a cream-cheese-like container, I was a little disappointed.  But when I scooped it out and realized how gooey it is, and when I tasted it and discovered how yummy it is, it became clear to me that I will be incorporating more mascarpone into my cooking.  I love it!

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