A big bowl of hot pasta, each strand perfectly coated in a creamy sauce, is perhaps the perfect comfort food. If you're not so hot on dairy - or it's not so hot on you - this meal may seem sadly out of your reach. Fortunately, there is a very easy way to make a rich and luscious, pasta-coating sauce without using a single drop of cream or a single pat of butter.
Photo: Claire Lower
The secret, my dear friends, lies in upping the starch content by adding a generous half cup of semolina flour (the stuff they make dried pasta out of) to your water just before adding the pasta. That amped-up, super starchy water is then added to a pan of glorious, crispy pork, mixing with the rendered fat to make an impossibly velvety cream-free sauce. To make this dairy-free dish (that serves two very hungry people), you will need:
- 225g of some sort of fatty pork such as pancetta, bacon or sausage
- 225g of dried pasta, any kind will work
- 3L slightly salted water
- 1/2 cup semolina flour
- Fresh pepper
In a large stainless steel sauté pan, cook your salty pork product over medium-low heat to render out the fat and get it all crispy. (Start the pork a couple of minutes ahead of the pasta - you can always remove it from the heat if you're worried about it burning.) While that's cooking, bring your water to a boil and add the flour and pasta.
Once the pork is crispy and the pasta is just shy of al dente, dump a cup of your very starchy water into the pan with the pancetta, bacon and/or sausage, and scrape up all the delicious burnt bits. Fish out the pasta from the pot with a set of tongs, and toss it in the sauce until it's perfectly al dente and coated in a thick, glossy sauce.
Let it simmer for a bit
Season with fresh pepper to taste, give it one more stir, and transfer it to your favourite pasta-scarfing bowl.
Now, could you add cheese? Of course you could. You could also wilt some spinach in with the pancetta, fry some minced garlic in the pan before adding the pasta water, or toss a handful of fresh herbs on top. It's an extremely forgiving and adaptable recipe, but I urge you to try it in its simplest form first. Pork fat and pasta water may not sounds like the makings of a perfect sauce, but believe me when I tell you it is rich, smoky and deceptively creamy.
But if you want some fresh parm on there, add the parm. Don't let me - or anyone else - tell you how to live your best pasta-eating life.