“But it wears out the pasta pots!”
That was the Newtonian-level reasoning behind Olive Garden’s policy of cooking pasta in unsalted water.
An Italian restaurant chain, with much ballyhooed Italian-trained chefs, doesn’t salt the pasta water. That’s the foundation. After neglecting this basic, basic step, all that follows will not make up for it. You get one chance to get flavor into the pasta–one. If you’re afraid of pitting your pots, add the salt to water after it comes to a boil, and you’ll be safe.
And a pinch or a teaspoon ain’t gonna cut it. Salt your pasta water with wild, shameless abandon. Chef Anne Burrel has an awesome phrase for how much to use. She says the water should be “shockingly salty”.
Seriously, think ocean.
All of your food should be salted while cooking as well. The difference between unseasoned and well-seasoned food is vast.
It’s embarrassing, but I enjoy too much salt. As a child, I held a very strange belief. I knew that pepper made food hot. I decided that salt was the opposite of pepper. So, salt must make food cold (I told you it was strange). Since I like my food considerably cooler than piping hot, I heavily salted my food, which in my mind, cooled it off. Thus I developed a taste for saltiness.
Because of this foible, when I started cooking, I was afraid of over-salting. Consequently, I under-seasoned everything.
Now I taste as I go along. Most foods don’t need a blizzard of salt. But some ingredients need more. Acid, avocado, and red meats are a few. Fried foods need more. It doesn’t take much salt to satisfy Petey, but he always salts his fries.
Desserts need salt too. It perks up the rest of the ingredients, like a twinkle in the eye. And lately, many confections are based on the interplay between salty and sweet. The Kid and I have one dessert that although tricky to prepare, rewards you with rapture.
OMG Salted Caramel Short Bread
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup corn starch
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing it to drape over 2 sides.
Whip butter until fluffy. Mix in confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and flour. Beat on low until combined, then on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Press dough into pan.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool.
When the shortbread comes out of the oven, begin making caramel.
½ cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
1 ½ cups heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a deep saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. No stirring; just swirl pan, otherwise it could seize up and turn into a giant crystal. Don’t rush this–it can burn in seconds and you’ll have to start over.
In a separate pan, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon salt to simmer on medium. Remove from the heat, set aside.
When the caramel is light amber, slowly whisk cream mixture into the caramel–use caution; it will boil up volcanically. Stir in vanilla and cook over medium-low to 248 degrees. When it’s close (243-ish), turn down burner, and coast to final temp for more control.
Immediately pour over shortbread, allow to set, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Lift the parchment out of pan. Cut into 1×2 inch pieces with large, sharp knife.
The shortbread is easy-peasy, and can be eaten alone or flavored (Kate Middleton loves lavender shortbread). But carefully follow the caramel instructions. A few degrees off and you’ll have runny caramel sauce, or break a tooth on it.
I invite you to take everything I ever say with a grain of salt. But please, add about a million more to it and put them in your pasta water—every single time.
Thanks for you time.