Hearty penne marinara is a staple in my home. About once a week, my husband I start craving this classic Italian dish and get to cooking the best way we know how. But, I can guarantee you it’s nowhere close to ‘classic’ Italian style, since the sauce most often comes from a jar and the noodles come from a box and usually end up overcooked.
But thanks to chefs like Bobby Flay who take the seemingly complicated meals and break them down into totally doable dishes, we’re able to recreate regional favorites right in our own home.
Flay – longtime chef, restaurateur, and Food Network star – recently stopped by The Today Show to dish out his tips on what to do – and what not to do – wen it comes to classic penne marinara.
With his guidance, we can avoid those common cooking mistakes and finally master the process that yields a perfect tomato sauce and the quintessential al dente noodle. Flay even throws in his tips for garlic bread, too.
Bobby Flay’s Perfect Penne Marinara
What to do:
Step 1: Sweat a handful of small-diced white onions and minced garlic in a splash of olive olive oil. Then add a whole can of whole tomatoes with the juice. Cook at a simmer and as tomatoes soften, lightly smash them down a potato masher, or other kitchen tool. Let the sauce remain at a low simmer as the pasta cooks.
Step 2: Salt the water; a good pinch should do.
Step 3: If the box says to cook the pasta for 11 minutes, cook it for 8 so you get that perfect al dente texture. Plus, it’s going to cook a bit more in the sauce.
Step 4: Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the sauce and season the pasta again before stirring. Flay says if you neglect doing so, you’ll have a bland dish on your hands. He recommends a healthy sprinkle of salt, pepper and fresh-grated Parmesan cheese, and then stirring into the sauce. Then, cook for only an additional minute or so.
Step 5: Throw in some fresh basil at the very end, or parsley, if it’s what you have access to.
Step 6: And lastly, throw a bunch of arugula on top for a bit of a peppery taste and a nice healthy, light texture. Then, quickly invert the pasta onto a serving dish and serve immediately.
What not to do:
- Don’t add oil to the pasta water: It’s not necessary.
- Don’t overcook the pasta or it will become mushy. Stop a few minutes short of the box’s recommendation.
- Do not pour cold water over the pasta once it’s done cooking.
- Don’t put too much ‘stuff’ in the sauce – a simple mixture of onion, garlic, and whole tomatoes is all you need.
- Do not add dried herbs to the sauce. If you don’t have fresh, just skip.
Flay even included a quick how-to on perfect homemade garlic bread, saying if you’re going to have pasta for dinner, you might as well go for it. We couldn’t agree more.
To make Flay’s classic garlic bread, start by toasting a baguette split in half until warm and golden brown; adding a little olive oil and salt and pepper before cooking is optional. Next, take some butter and a little minced garlic and saute very quickly – about 30 seconds. Add garlic to a dish of softened butter, then add salt and pepper and stir together. Slather the mixture generously onto the bread. Then add fresh chopped parsley for some freshness. There’s no need to put the bread back in the oven as long the bread was hot enough to melt the garlic -butter mixture.
Slice, and serve alongside pasta and you’ll have a classic Italian dish for dinner – no mushy, under-seasoned pasta, overcomplicated sauce or store-bought garlic bread in sight. Not only will it taste better, bit it will be much healthier and entirely preservative-free. Now that’s amore.