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Season 17, Episode 12 Recap: How to Make the Best Pantry Pasta Dishes

Everyone needs a few great recipes they can whip up at a moment’s notice. Pasta e Ceci and Penne Arrabbiata are two of those recipes.
By Published Mar. 27, 2017

This week, the cast of America’s Test Kitchen is all about making pasta dishes with ingredients any well-equipped home cook can almost always find in their pantry. Bridget Lancaster kicks things off and teaches Julia Collin Davison how to make Pasta e Ceci. Next, Jack Bishop tests Julia’s taste buds with a blind tasting of Parmesan, and then Dan Souza talks the science of aging cheese. Finally, Elle Simone shows Bridget the key to great Penne Arrabbiata.

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America's Test Kitchen TV

"Pantry Pastas"

Host Bridget Lancaster uncovers the secrets for making perfect Pasta e Ceci. Next, tasting expert Jack Bishop challenges host Julia Collin Davison to a tasting of Parmesan. Then, science expert Dan Souza reveals the science behind Parmesan’s signature flavor. Finally, test cook Elle Simone shows Bridget how to make the ultimate Penne Arrabbiata.  
Watch the Episode

Five Takeaways from the Episode

1. Anchovies Are Your Secret Weapon: To give your pasta e ceci a meatier, more umami forward flavor profile, add one finely minced anchovy filet. No one’s going to know it’s in there (unless you tell them), and it’s going to make all the difference in the final product.

2. Don’t Throw Out the Chickpea Liquid: The liquid that chickpeas are canned in contains a lot of starch, which will provide good body for your pasta e ceci. What exactly is that liquid? Well, it’s just water. Chickpeas are packed into cans with regular old water, and then they’re cooked directly in the cans. (For more on how to use chickpea canning liquid, also called aquafaba, read this post.)

3. When It Comes to Parmesan, Dry and Crumbly Is a Good Thing: And to get a quality Parmesan, it’s all about aging: For a cheese to have a moisture level below 32 percent (this is the threshold you’re looking for when looking for good Parmesan), it has to be aged for 24 months. Thinking about buying one that’s aged only 10 months? Don’t even bother.

4. A Full Wheel of Parmesan Is Big!: Eighty-four pounds big, in fact. Why does this matter? Because with a wheel of cheese that big, there’s bound to be variations in flavor depending on where on the wheel the piece of cheese came from. Cheese near the rind is more crumbly and more flavorful than cheese at the interior, and boasts twice as many of those tasty, crunchy crystals. Next time you’re in the supermarket selecting a piece of Parmesan, choose a corner piece with rind on both the side and the bottom.

5. In Italian, Arrabbiata Means Angry: And in the context of penne arrabbiata, it means spicy. For our recipe, we wanted a palatable type of angry, not smash-the-food-processor-on-the-kitchen-floor type of angry. So we looked beyond tradition, and instead of including just red pepper flakes, we added pepperoncini and paprika to the fold. Pecorino Romano, anchovies, and tomato paste added deep, rich, umami flavors and helped temper the heat.

Quote of the Week: “This is eight ounces of ditalini, which in Italian means ‘little Dita.’” —Bridget Lancaster, jokingly translating the name of the pasta we use in our recipe for Pasta e Ceci

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