The Simple Art of Cooking: Pasta, Pasta, Pasta

America has been in the midst of a gastronomic revolution for decades, and pasta has headed the list as one of our favorite foods. This of course precludes anyone of Italian origin where pasta has been a staple for centuries.

To understand the Italian way of eating, it’s important to remember that pasta is almost always served as a first course in moderate quantities. In this way fish or meats and vegetables are also served in moderate quantities following the pasta, soup or risotto course, preserving an age-old instinct for healthy eating.

I remember teaching a pasta class and suggested that the recipe for one-pound pasta serve 6 to 8 people A student replied “Why, my husband could eat the entire dish.” Well that may be, but remember, where there is pasta there are calories. I realize that eating pasta in small quantities as the first course in a meal isn’t always practical but it can be a one-dish meal incorporating a balance of ingredients thus fitting nicely into our busy lifestyles. So calories aside, what I try to do is vary the different pastas, accompanying sauces and components and cook no more than one half pound for two people. Here are some thoughts on cooking pasta for two. [expand]



Bunches of plump, bright red cherry tomatoes are tied with a string and hung to dry in the warm air of southern Italy. To air-dry cherry tomatoes at home put them on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven for 5 minutes. 

This adaptation serves 2 to 3.

For the sauce

1/2 pound winter grape or cherry tomatoes

1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes.


To cook the pasta

Kosher salt for the cooking water

1/2 pound dry spaghetti, preferably imported Italian



2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley


Preheat oven to 375 degrees


1. Put the cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool for 10 minutes. Then cut the tomatoes in half, retaining the seeds and skin.

2. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 to 40 seconds, being careful not to brown. Then adjust heat to medium high and add the tomatoes. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes longer. (Even over high heat, the tomatoes should not dissolve completely.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and the hot red pepper flakes. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of cold water to a boil over high heat, and add 1 to 2 tablespoons kosher salt to taste. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir with a wooden spoon and cover the pot to bring the water back to a boil as quickly as possible. Remove the lid and cook the pasta until it is al dente (10 to 12 minutes, depending on the brand). Save about 1/3 cup pasta water to add to the warm sauce. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the saucepan with the sauce. Sprinkle the parsley over all. Mix very well and serve immediately. (No cheese should be used with this dish.)



Greens, garlic and snippets of hot pepper come together to embellish this pasta classic. 

Serves 2 to 3 or double the recipe to serve 4 to 5.


1 medium head escarole, blanched and drained

2 to 3 large cloves garlic, peeled

Kosher salt for the pasta cooking water

1/2 pound imported spaghetti

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon snipped hot pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Core and rinse escarole and remove any bruised outer leaves. Soak the leaves in bowl of fresh water for 20 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt the water. Drain the escarole and put into the boiling water. Cook with cover ajar for 6 to 8 minutes. Drain again and cool under cold running water then squeeze very dry in a clean kitchen towel. Coarsely chop the vegetable and slice garlic into slivers. Can be prepared up to several hours ahead.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add kosher salt, then add the pasta and cook at a rolling boil about 10 to 12 minutes depending on the brand or until al dente. (Save some of the pasta cooking water as needed.)

3. Meanwhile, place a large skillet with the oil over low heat: when the oil is warm, add the slivered garlic and sauté for 30 to 40 seconds. Add the snipped pepper flakes, salt and pepper and stir to mix. Put in the cooked escarole and toss to mix over medium heat until everything is warm and garlic is golden, about 2 minutes longer.

4. When the pasta is ready, drain in a colander shaking off excess water. Transfer to a very large warm serving platter; pour the garlic/oil sauce over and toss very well.


Note: Aglio E Olio is never eaten with cheese.



For my husband and me this quick fix recipe is a kitchen staple when there’s nothing in the house to eat. Use the clean bright flavors of fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley to season.

Serves 2


1 tablespoon kosher salt for the pasta cooking water

1/2 pound imported spaghetti or linguini

2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into thin slivers

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon snipped hot pepper

1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt, put in the pasta all at once and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes depending on the brand.

2. Meanwhile warm oil in a skillet, add the slivered garlic and sauté for 2 minutes over medium-low heat until lightly golden. Add pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and stir to mix. Stir in the parsley and keep warm over very low heat.

3. Ladle about 1/4-cup pasta water to the sauce. Drain pasta and immediately transfer to the parsley garlic sauce. Stir to mix so that all the strands are well coated. Transfer to warm dinner plates, sprinkle over additional parsley if desired and serve at once.


Note: Aglio E Olio is never eaten with cheese.


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