To try Sophie's recipe for a "pasotto" with crab and arugula, click here.
When I was a line cook in New York City, my mornings started with risotto. While most people were sleepily pouring milk into cereal, I'd start chopping onions, leeks, and garlic; toasting the rice; uncorking a bottle of dry white wine; then hovering neurotically over the pot, adding liquid, and stirring, over and over, waiting until just the right moment to pull the pot off. No one should be uncorking white wine before 7:00 a.m., but I often found myself contemplating a little swig here or there. I don't even like risotto. What was I doing making it before the sun rose?
However, when I learned the art of pasta cooking that mimics that of risotto, I became a convert. It's brilliant. No enormous pot of water that takes forever to boil; a much smaller volume of stock can intensely flavor each piece of pasta. No second pot for sauce; the sauce forms in the pan along with the pasta. Hello, pasotto!
A few cooks I know of swear by this method, most famously Alain Ducasse, who even created a special pot for it (one thing you can put on your kitchen wish list right next to "Twinkie pan") and, I've been told, rarely cooks his pasta any other way. A little Googling yielded some unverified claims that the practice originated years ago in northern Italy, where water was scarce. I asked my friend, a native of the region who denied having any historical knowledge, adding, "I can assure you that out of 60 million Italians, perhaps two in any given month might attempt to cook pasta that way." No matter—the results were delicious.
For my first ever pasotto experiment, I chose seafood for my protein, shunning the heavy butter-and-cheese combination that makes me flee from the risotto side of the menu to the pasta side. I flavored the pasta with fish stock—which it absorbed, spoonful by spoonful, taking on much more flavor than if I had used only water—onions, lemon, salt, and pepper. I mixed in arugula at the end for a little color and crunch.
The pasta was flavorful, its sauce basically made itself, it looked beautiful, and I had one pot to clean. Light, delicious, simple. Furthermore, I found the pasta more resilient that risotto rice, meaning that I didn't do any neurotic pot-hovering. I did, however, allow myself a swig or two from the white wine bottle. Hey, it wasn't 7:00 a.m.
Recent cooking columns by Sophie Brickman:
No Grease Allowed: Healthier Asian Noodles
The Gluten Game: How to Cross a Menu Minefield
If You Can't Stand the Grill, Get into the Kitchen