Pasta is the great equalizer. Whether you're trying to get dinner on the table for your family on a hectic weeknight or you've invited your boss over for a fancy dinner party, you can always count on this fast and filling pantry staple to satisfy everyone.
If you preach the pasta gospel, you'll love Colu Henry's debut cookbook, Back Pocket Pasta. The #backpocketpasta idea was conceived originally as a way to document the on-the-fly pasta concoctions Colu would "cobble together" after long, tiring work days. Thankfully for all of us, the project eventually morphed into this collection of inspired, deeply personal recipes.
The pastas range from classics passed down through her Italian family (like Mama's Marinara and Nonni's Tuna-Clam Sauce) to dishes influenced by her travels and home in New York (like Moroccan Lamb Ragu and Creamy Saffron Risotto-Style Fregola). Most recipes have short ingredient lists, so you can easily whip them up at a moment's notice, and there's also a side dish and cocktail section to round out the meal if you're entertaining.
I had the pleasure of attending a Back Pocket Pasta book signing at Dawn Hill Antiques in New Preston, Connecticut, where Colu was making her Linguine with Asparagus and Lemon and chatting about her favorite pasta cooking tools (in partnership with local kitchen supply store New Preston Kitchen Goods).
I spoke with Colu about the most essential kitchen tool she believes every cook should have for better pasta at home. Here's what she had to say.
The One Tool You Need for Cooking Pasta
A pair of tongs! "I have like five pairs of tongs in my house, because they're always in rotation," she says. Once the pasta is al dente, Colu grabs it with tongs (instead of draining it) and drops it directly into a pan of sauce to finish cooking on the stovetop. Note: This works primarily with long, noodle-shaped pasta, like linguine, angel hair, spaghetti, fettuccine, or tagliatelle. (For smaller pasta shapes, like penne, oriecchette, or farfalle, it's best to use a spider skimmer or pasta claw to transfer the pasta.)
After tossing the noodles with the tongs to evenly coat it in the sauce, Colu always uses the tongs to plate the pasta. While serving pasta family-style in a large bowl might seem like an easier way to present your dish, Colu says it actually doesn't make for the best sauce distribution — if the first person dishes out a portion with a lot of sauce, the last person might be left with very little sauce. So she portions an equal amount of pasta on each plate, and then if there is any sauce left in the pan, she spoons it evenly over each serving.
What you're left with is a dish that's not only beautiful, but also perfectly sauced!
If you're in the process of setting up a kitchen, or you're just looking to make more pasta at home (aren't we all?), these are the other tools Colu swears by.