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KEVIN’S KITCHEN

A Saucy Experience

A good sauce—or pesto—can turn an ordinary pasta dinner into something delicious

It’s formed into strands, spirals and stars, splashed with a rainbow of colors. It makes for an easy, filling, inexpensive meal. The average American eats about 20 pounds of it annually, surveys have found. And pasta, a friend once quipped, is the perfect sauce delivery vehicle.

Whether you buy dried or refrigerated noodles or make your own, a good sauce can turn an ordinary pasta dinner into something delicious.

Sauces and pestos come in as many varieties as the pastas on which they are served. You can go with a plain marinara from a jar if you’re pressed for time or spend hours assembling elaborate concoctions incorporating meat and vegetables. It all depends on your tastes and level of commitment.

Pestos, usually a blend of flavorful herbs, oil, garlic and cheese, not only work on pastas, but are also perfect for meats and grilled veggies.

If pasta’s your pick to pair with a sauce, here are some simple tips to make the meal better:

  • Use plenty of water. To cook properly, noodles need room to move around. If your pasta sinks to the bottom of the pot when you add it, you don’t have enough water. The noodles will end up cooking in too high a concentration of their own starch and become gloppy.
  • Before you add pasta, salt the water. Don’t use much: A teaspoon or less will do. It won’t add appreciably to the sodium count of your meal, but it will make the pasta much more flavorful.
  • Allow water to come to a full, rolling boil before adding pasta gradually. Ideally, the water won’t stop boiling as pasta is added.
  • To check for doneness, fish a couple of pieces of pasta out with tongs or a spoon and cut into it. There should be a small, pale dot of starch in the center, and the noodle should be elastic. Al dente pasta will have a whiter dot on the inside and be firmer to the cut.
  • When it’s done, drain pasta thoroughly in a colander, but don’t rinse away the starch on the outside. That starch helps the sauce adhere to the noodles. Also, don’t leave the pasta in the colander; it will stick together. Either serve it immediately or stir it into a sauce that’s hot but not still cooking.

This recipe, featuring farfalle (bow-tie pasta) is wonderful warm but can also be served cold. It can be a meal on its own but goes well with bread or a green salad.

Lime Chicken and Pasta Salad with Cilantro Pesto

Juice of 2 limes
1 cup olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt
4 boneless chicken breast halves
1 large bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
2 heaping tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 to 8 ounces farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, optional

Combine lime juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, cayenne, paprika, brown sugar and salt to taste in glass bowl. Add chicken, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours, turning once after an hour. Meanwhile, combine cilantro, walnuts, ginger, garlic, remaining oil and salt to taste in food processor and process to a smooth paste. Stir in Parmesan. When ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Set chicken aside. Cook pasta to al dente stage. While pasta is cooking, grill or broil chicken until done, about 10 minutes. Slice chicken into short strips. Drain pasta and combine it and chicken, both still warm, with pesto. Toss until well coated. Top with chopped grape or cherry tomatoes, if desired.

Servings: 6. Serving size: 1/6 of dish. Per serving: 638 calories, 33 g protein, 40.7 g fat, 29.7 g carbohydrates, 1.6 g dietary fiber, 205 mg sodium, 1.2 g sugars, 81 mg cholesterol

March 2012 Recipe Contest