Marriage Italian Style
Marc Vetri's tips for saucing pasta
"You know those commercials where they show a plate of pasta with a pile of sauce on top? That's bullshit."
Those words are taken directly from Marc Vetri's new cookbook, Mastering Pasta ($30). Aside from covering everything you need to know about making noodles, from different types of flour to basic techniques, the opinionated author and chef/owner of six Italian restaurants in Philadelphia shares his strong (ahem, very strong) thoughts on saucing.
"People tend to think of it in terms of the noodle and the sauce, instead of thinking of them as a happy marriage," Vetri tells us in our Test Kitchen.
He continues, "I don't necessarily buy into that whole thing of using a certain pasta shape with a certain kind of sauce. I just want a happy marriage."
One of the easiest ways to do that, Vetri says, is to make sure you cook the pasta in the sauce (no draining and then dumping on that sauce afterward). For fresh pasta, that means a minute or two of swirling it around in the sauce. For dried, boil it in salted water for a few minutes less than the package recommends, then finish it in the sauce.
"I cook pasta and sauce together for as long as I can," Vetri says. "Sometimes, if it's fresh pasta, I don't even boil it in water."
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What you want is emulsification, the act of binding the sauce to the pasta. Another way to help the process along is to add some of the water you boiled the noodles in. It should be heavily salted, adding yet another layer of flavor, and the starch from cooking the pasta helps everything come together. Agitating the pan helps, too: Get that pasta moving. Toss or stir it around so that the sauce will thicken and bathe each strand.
"The sauce and the pasta should be one," Vetri says. "When you take your last bite, there shouldn't be a pool of sauce on the bottom. There should be nothing left. That, to me, is what makes the perfect plate of pasta."