Nigella Lawson has released her new book, Nigellissima, which of course means a new TV show to go with it. She calls this one ‘instant Italian inspiration’ as the recipes are all pretty easy, not necessarily authentic but still with a hint of Italian in there. This particular recipe from the book uses the absorption method of cooking pasta … why had I never heard of it before? We've always believed that pasta needed plenty of boiling, salted water to cook properly and stop it sticking together ... not so. After a bit of googling, I discovered that this method was first used way back in the 13th century and it’s basically the same technique as if you were cooking rice, in other words, two cups of water or stock per one cup of pasta.
If you think about it, this makes sense. You know the scenario … you’ve made your sauce and have the pasta boiling away but before draining it, you reserve a bit of the starchy pasta water to add to the sauce along with the al dente pasta to give it that lovely creaminess and bring it all together. It’s the starch that absorbs the water as it cooks, so imagine the end results if it were absorbing stock or sauce instead and none of the starch was poured away. You could still cook your pasta separately using the absorption method and add it to your sauce after or you could actually cook it in the sauce itself as long as there was enough liquid to be absorbed.
I don’t think that this method would work so well for long pasta and certainly not for fresh pasta or say, ravioli but it’s definitely worth further experimentation with the short dry pasta shapes and I’ll keep you posted with the findings! It worked a treat with the risoni pasta in this dish though, resulting in a lovely, velvety, comforting dish that was quick to the table without all the usual stirring and tedious additions of stock as with rice risotto. Brilliant!
Pea & Pancetta Pasta Risotto
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
50g pancetta (or bacon)
½ cup frozen peas (I also added in a bunch of chopped asparagus, just because I had it)
1¼ cups risoni pasta (orzo)
2½ cups boiling water
knob of butter
handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Heat a swig of olive oil in a saucepan. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp. Toss in the peas and asparagus and mix it all around. Now add the pasta and stir. Pour in the boiling water along with a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, give it a stir every now and then, this should only take about 5-7 minutes. Test a few pieces to see if it’s ready and if not, pour in a little more water and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir through a knob of butter and a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Serves 2-3.