Learning to Cook with 'Basically 10x10': Recipe 1
You all may not know this about me, but I am a huge fan of Bon Appetit and its affiliate sites (Healthyish / Basically...). I follow each of them on Instagram...I hop onto their websites daily…I keep a pretty close eye on their writers (looking at you, Alex Delany)...let’s just say I’m an avid follower of the brands. And following them has been great - I’ve learned a ton, kept up with some of the best restaurants and most talented culinary creatives in the country, have a keen sense on new trends and ‘what’s the new what’ in the industry, et cetera.
But here’s what I wish I did more of - - - actually. freaking. COOK.
I think about it often. I have this amazing garden (thank you Sara Gasbarra!) that provides me with fresh herbs, I’m surrounded by some of the most talented chefs in the country, and I love food. So why don’t I cook? What I find myself lacking is both technique and recipes created for the home cook. Recipes meant to teach me the right way to do things and, more importantly, why I’m doing them...and what makes the wrong way, well, wrong.
Lo and behold, Bon Appetit has, once again, helped me to see things a little more clearly. Amiel Stanek, editor for Basically, has created what is essentially a 10-week newsletter program featuring 10 simple recipes meant to teach you to be a better cook. These are 10 no-fail recipes that every home cook should have in their arsenal...errrrr brain... (seriously, this was made for me). Amiel says it best: “If you’re the kind of person who wishes they had a tried-and-true arsenal of delicious effortless dishes at their fingertips, well, you’re in the right place.” I’ll give a big ‘ole hell yes to that.
The program is called Basically 10x10...and it started in September...but that’s a-okay because the temperatures are just now getting cooler in Nashville and it’s that perfect time of year to throw on those comfy clothes and find yourself experimenting in the kitchen.
Over the next 10 weeks, I’ll cook my way through each of these recipes - through the trials and tribulations of new techniques that many would consider to be pretty basic. We’ll see how I fare, but I’ll come out of it knowing practice makes perfect and that’s what all of this should be about, anyhow.
Feel free to join me in the effort of Basically’s 10x10 and comment about your experience throughout the process.
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** assistance images/ videos from Basically
This one is actually a pretty interesting recipe for me to get started on. My family is Italian. Our ideal Thanksgiving is one in which we make pasta and meatballs and sausages, and trust me that gravy is on the stove allllllll day long. Store-bought marinara sauce is not my ideal route for Wednesday night pasta sauce but, honestly, who has time to make SUNDAY GRAVY on a WEDNESDAY? Turns out (my grandmother is turning in her grave) you don’t have to.
3 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, plus more
3 basil sprigs, plus leaves for serving ** I was able to go outside and pick these bad boys from my garden, one of my favorite activities that continues to give me pride
1 lb. dried spaghetti
4 ½ oz. parmesan, finely grated, divided (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
What You’ll need
Dutch oven **A big pan with higher sides works for this, too!
Heat-proof measuring cup
1. Fill a large stock pot two-thirds full with water and heat over high to bring to a boil. Once you see the water start to steam, add 3 Tbsp. salt. We know, we know: That looks like a LOT of salt. But salting the pasta water aggressively—it should almost be seawater-salty—is the key to making sure that every noodle is properly seasoned through and through, and is one reason why restaurant pasta tastes better than the stuff you usually make. While you wait for the water, start your sauce.
Note: Holy heck does pasta taste so. much. better. with all of that salt. Tip to remember, check.
2. Open a 28-oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes and drain contents in a colander set over medium bowl. (Whole peeled tomatoes are the only canned tomatoes worth buying, TBH. The diced ones sometimes have weird chemicals added to them to keep the chunks from breaking down. Gross.) Using clean fingers, poke a hole in the tomatoes and shake to drain liquid and seeds from the insides of each tomato, reserving liquid. Shake colander over bowl to separate the solids from all the juices and encourage liquid to drain; set aside.
Note: I am never buying diced tomatoes again. Also, those peeled tomatoes break down to make the sauce.
3. Smash 4 garlic cloves with the flat side of a chef’s knife forcefully, so garlic breaks up into smaller bits; remove skins. If the cloves are really big, you might need to give them an extra smack to make sure they're broken up, but don't bother chopping—the garlic will infuse into the oil you sizzle it in and break down as the sauce simmers.
Note: This is amazing because I truly, truly hate chopping garlic.
4. Working next to your pasta pot, heat 3 Tbsp. oil in a large Dutch oven over medium. (We like using a Dutch oven or a large, high-sided skillet for cooking sauce and finishing pasta; it's kind of the only thing big enough to toss a whole pound of pasta in without noodles flying everywhere.) Add garlic and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until garlic is golden all over, about 3 minutes.
5. Stir in a pinch of red pepper flakes, then add drained tomatoes and increase heat to medium-high. The idea here is to concentrate the flavor of those tomato solids before adding the liquid they came in, which will give your sauce a more complex, rounded flavor. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are darkened in color, browned and caramelized in spots, and starting to break down, 6–8 minutes. Don't rush this part! If you aren't getting color, let it go for another few minutes. Mash with the back of the wooden spoon to form a coarse paste.
Note: Do not rush the sauce. My grandmother taught me that.
6. Add reserved tomato liquid to pot and stir to combine. Season with a pinch of salt, throw in 3 basil sprigs, and reduce heat so sauce is bubbling at a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced and sauce is thick like applesauce, 8–10 minutes. If your water isn’t boiling yet, turn off heat under sauce while you wait. If it is, reduce heat to lowest setting and move on.
7. Add 1 lb. pasta to pot of water and agitate with tongs to prevent sticking. Cook pasta, tossing occasionally, just until lower end of time range given on the package for al dente. If you're not sure if it's done, fish out a piece and take a nibble—it should still be slightly too crunchy to want to eat because it's going to continue cooking in the tomato sauce. Just before pasta is done, use a heat-proof measuring cup to scoop out about 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Note: that pasta cooking liquid is actually liquid GOLD.
8. Using tongs, transfer pasta from stock pot into Dutch oven with sauce, allowing water to piggyback on pasta into sauce. (That's right, no draining!) Crank heat under sauce up to medium-high and pour in ½ cup reserved pasta cooking liquid. If you've never finished cooking pasta in a pan full of sauce, your life is about to be changed—this process is what ensures that every single noodle is completely coated and infused with saucy goodness, and is pretty much the main difference between a dish of "meh" pasta and one that blows your mind.
Note: Again - Liquid. Gold.
9. Cook pasta, tossing constantly, until sauce is clinging to each noodle and any standing liquid is mostly absorbed, about 1 minute. You still want a saucy consistency, but not watery. If things ever start to look a little dry, just add another splash of that pasta cooking water; if they look too wet, just wait a bit for some more liquid to evaporate.
10. Slowly sprinkle in half of the Parmesan cheese (you want the grainy stuff with the texture of shaky cheese, not microplaned), tossing constantly, until it has melted into the sauce. Add more pasta water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, to loosen sauce if necessary—it should be plenty saucy while you're incorporating the cheese so it emulsifies into the sauce properly. You want the sauce to ooze but still be thick enough to coat the pasta.
11. Remove pot from heat and stir in 2 Tbsp. butter until melted. Finishing with a bit of butter is almost always a good idea—it makes the finished dish extra glossy and delicious. (Don't look at us like that—if you think pasta is diet food, you're kidding yourself.)
Note: The butter! 😻
12. Using tongs, divide pasta among bowls, then top with remaining cheese and basil leaves. Top with red pepper flakes and an extra drizzle of oil, if you feel. And there you have it: saucy, glossy Basically Spaghetti Pomodoro. Give yourself a pat on the back, and kiss the jarred stuff goodbye.
Note: *Tosses jarred tomato sauce out the window*
The recipe was so easy to follow and, moreover, tasted great (plus, I had some pasta leftover for lunch the next day, which for me is a definite plus.)! I may have cooked the sauce a smidge too long so i’ll have to keep a closer eye on that next time. I’m already looking forward to next week’s recipe (steak salad, anyone?).