August 15, 2012

Pasta with Cream Sauce

This recipe gives the basic ingredients and technique for "Pasta with Cream Sauce". The 'creaminess' comes from cheese and milk/cream. Once you get familiar with it, experiment with your own additions and tweaks.

serves: 4-6 people

500 g (1 lb) dried pasta*
enough water to boil pasta

180-200 g (7 oz) cheese**, grated
240 ml (1 cup) milk or cooking cream
2-3 tablespoons butter
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3-5 strips bacon (optional), diced or chopped
olive oil (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Ingredients notes:

* Good pasta doesn't have to be expensive/imported. It needs to have just ONE thing on its 'ingredients' list: Semolina Durum Wheat. That's IT. No additives, no added flour, no 'fillers', etc. So read the label. If it lists anything other than Semolina Durum Wheat, put it back. I use a local (Indonesian) brand "La Fonte" which fits that description and so far I've been satisfied with it. As for the pasta shapes: it's really up to you, but I like to use 'tubed' shaped pasta (ridged penne, at the top photo; or ridged elbow macaroni for the cooking step photos) because those shapes offer lots of nooks & crannies to catch the cream sauce.

** Experiment with your favorite cheese. So far I've used Gouda, Cheddar, Edam and Mozzarella but more often than not, I use the widely available (and more economical) Kraft Cheddar.

  • a large pan (roomy enough to cook the Cream Sauce and accommodate the cooked pasta)
  • a large pot (big enough to boil water + pasta).
  • a large strainer

DIRECTIONS: note that the pasta and the sauce are cooked simultaneously (see photo), so have all the utensils and ingredients ready.

  1. In a pot large enough to boil the pasta, put enough water and salt it until it's as salty as seawater. When the water boils, put in the dried pasta and cook it according to the directions on its package.
  2. While waiting for the water to boil/the pasta to cook, prepare the Cream Sauce: if using bacon (I hope you do), put the chopped bacon on the unheated pan, then heat it over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon bits are crispy.
    [If you're not using bacon/bacon fat: heat several tablespoons of olive oil/cooking oil/butter for this step].
  3. Saute the chopped garlic in the rendered bacon fat [or oil] until fragrant and golden (about 30 seconds... don't let the garlic turn brown). Enjoy that mouth-watering aroma ... 
  4. Pour in the milk/cream into the pan. Stir and let it come to a simmer.
  5. Mix the grated cheese into the simmering milk. Stir until melted.
  6. Add the butter and stir until melted into the sauce.
  7. Add a few teaspoons of olive oil (optional).
  8. Salt and pepper to taste.
  9. When the sauce is gently bubbling, it's done. Cooking the Cream Sauce itself only takes a few minutes, so most probably your pasta is still cooking when the sauce is finished. That's okay. Just turn off the heat (but keep the sauce in the pan) while waiting for the pasta to cook.
  10. Test your pasta, especially near the end of the prescribed cooking time. When it's almost al dente (still has a 'bite', not mushy!), get the strainer and start straining the cooked pasta and transferring it directly into the Cream Sauce (see photo) until all the pasta has been transferred. Don't worry if some water still clings to the pasta when you transfer it. Pasta water is good for the sauce.
  11. Turn on the heat for the sauce again. Gently stir the pasta until everything gets coated by the Cream Sauce. If the sauce is too thick/dry, spoon some of the pasta water and stir into it. Cook for just another minute or so, until the sauce is bubbly again, but the pasta is still firm.
  12. Serve immediately. May be served with Toasted Breadcrumbs topping or extra grated cheese.
Leftovers can be refrigerated in a covered container. Reheat using microwave or steamer.