Last fall I picked up Stanley tuccithe best-selling memories, Taste: My life through food. It includes many dishes featured on its CNN show, In search of Italy, and unsurprisingly, many of these recipes were pasta dishes.
While reading, I noticed a pattern: Tucci really wants us to use the starchy cooking water left over when the pasta comes out of the pot. So much so that the starchy water is mentioned 12 times throughout To taste, from spaghetti with lentils to alla norma pasta to fish stew.
Now, I’ve often mixed a tablespoon of starchy water into a thickened pasta sauce to make it a bit smoother. But I have a method that works even better with pasta: chicken broth.
There are three main ways to incorporate chicken broth into pasta dishes, and one of them has been around since cooking techniques were first taught.
Make a soup
If the history books have it correctly, French chef Marie-Antoine Carême was the first person to use chicken broth as the base for the sauce around the early 1800s. Lent is credited with inventing the velouté, which is one of five “mother sauces” that students learn in cooking school.
It’s a pretty straightforward process: make a roux with butter and flour, slowly add the chicken broth, and you’re done! You have a pale yellow creamy sauce that can be used as a base for other flavors. The basic proportions are 3: 3: 2 — three tablespoons of flour, three tablespoons of butter and two cups of chicken broth.
You can add lemon juice to a soup for a delicious citrus sauce (be careful to mix well to incorporate it, and be careful of the seeds). You can add a few of your favorite herbs: I find it wonderful with tarragon, which pairs well with a simple dish of grilled chicken, salmon or tofu.
Stir in dairy products, if desired, such as grated Parmesan or goat cheese, always remembering to mix well. The soup can be made in small quantities, or in larger quantities if you are serving a group.
Enhance the vegetables
Not everyone wants to take the time to make a real velvety sauce, however, and these cooks can try using chicken broth as a flavor enhancer in other ways.
I will often steam vegetables like Chinese broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, and chopped greens to add to other dishes, like pasta or a bowl of rice. Usually I toss them in a little olive oil and salt so that the flavor doesn’t fight with the main course, but to make them shine, throw your veg in some chicken broth, about one or two. tablespoons per cup of vegetables, before you cook them.
The broth adds flavor and salinity without being overwhelming. If you feel that the flavor of the chicken is too consistent, you can dilute it with water, and again, it’s a perfect mix with lemon or lime juice, depending on what type of main course you are. you serve.
One of my favorite Italian soups is one of the simplest: Brotho pasta, or pasta in broth. This is exactly what it sounds like: pasta served in chicken, beef or vegetable broth.
The dish is said to originate from the Emilia Romagna region in northeastern Italy, but you can find it in many restaurants specializing in northern Italian cuisine. It’s a real comfort food that marries the simplicity of chicken broth with a favorite form of pasta.
When preparing the dish, decide how you want the broth to taste. Some people are happy with pasta cooked in broth exactly as it comes out of the box or jar (or the freezer, if you make your own).
Other diners find it too bland and correct it with garlic or butter. To me, this makes the broth more like soup, and it negates the delicate flavor of the broth itself. If you want more than broth, I recommend experimenting with adding juice, herbs, or spices.
The style of the pasta is up to you. A classic version includes tortellini, with diced vegetables or meat often added for added flavor. This recipe from Jamie Oliver gives you a fairly filling dish. You can use rice noodles to make a quick pho-style soup, or more hearty udon if you like their chewy texture.
But, this is the opportunity to use smaller types like orzo, orecchiette (those shaped like small ears) and acini di pepe, whose name means “peppercorn” and which is even smaller.
For me, chicken broth pasta is the perfect dish to make on a cold day when you want something filling and want the satisfaction of cooking, but you don’t want to bother.
Tips for using chicken broth
Test the salinity of the broth before doing anything with it. Some commercial versions can be quite salty (read the label for salt content). If you are using homemade broth, go for the less salty side. You can always add more salt while cooking.
Heat the chicken broth to a boil, remove any residual fat, add any flavorings, then add the pasta. Immediately lower it to a simmer. Test the doneness of the pasta while cooking. Because chicken broth is thicker than water, your pasta may need a minute or two longer to cook.
Freeze the broth in ice cube trays, then thaw one or two to use with vegetables or to make a small amount of soup. My trick is to freeze the cubes and then put them in a Ziploc as soon as they are solid.