No, this isn’t about making a pasta bake. But, actually roasting dry pasta, and then cooking with it.
I got this strange notion from a really great book, Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why they Work, by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot. The book takes some major food types (dairy, pasta, eggs etc.) and breaks down why these ingredients react in the way they do, in cooking. They then take you through some ways of playing around in the home kitchen (the first half of the book anyway), to get even more interesting results with these ingredients, once you’ve understood the fundamentals of what these ingredients are all about. Think of it as a more pared down, and chatty version of Harold McGee. I’ve definitely been finding it interesting, even if sometimes I have to re-read, mouthing the words as I go, when it gets a bit sciency.
An experiment in there, that seemed both accessible and potentially interesting, was roasting pasta, before then hydrating it in water in the fridge. When it then comes to cooking that pasta in boiling water as per normal, it should take a fraction of the time. Moreover, that roasting should engender the pasta with a nutty, more savoury flavour, that can really add to the finished dish.
So, I gave it a go. I roasted enough spaghetti for one, at 190 degrees C, laid out in one single layer in a roasting tin, for around 10 minutes.
I then left it to cool, and put it in a sealable food bag, with around 1l of water. I left it for a good 2.5 hours. It was interesting to see how the pasta started to hydrate over the time.
When it came to cooking with it, I went with the recommendation in the book and made cacio e pepe. This is one of the simplest of pasta dishes (pasta, 50g pecorino, and a really good helping of black pepper), but it felt appropriate to go for something that could hopefully showcase the roasted flavour of that pasta.
Boiling the pasta did appear to take longer than the 1 minute or so that is specified in the book once the pasta is hydrated (maybe I didn’t soak it for long enough), but it did take less time than normally cooking pasta. So, what of the taste? Well, it did taste nuttier, and there was a greater dimension to the pasta. The pasta was also less sticky, which must be to do with the starches being washed away as the pasta soaks. I wouldn’t say it’s something I will be employing a lot, purely because the process means you need to know, and be able to prepare the dish a good half a day in advance.
However, for a bit of a change, and experimentation in the kitchen, it’s definitely worth a go.