Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cookbook Challenge: Absorption Pasta

I go back and forth on my opinion on trying new recipes or techniques for old standby recipes. Sometimes a new idea will spark great flavors in a classic dish, but other times the new recipe will leave you wondering if there was actually anything wrong in the first place. I cook a lot of pasta in my kitchen, and I've always cooked my noodles the way most people do-- by boiling them. I didn't even think there could be another way to cook noodles until I came across the Cacao and Zucchini Absorption Pasta in my Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook.

The method involves cooking the noodles in liquid, similar to the technique used to make risotto. You coat the noodles in olive oil and sauteed onions and garlic, then add just enough stock to cover the noodles. The broth absorbs into the pasta, cooking the noodles and flavoring them at the same time. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? I thought so, too, so I decided it would be this week's Cookbook Challenge recipe.

I ended up pretty disappointed in my results. I think my biggest mistake was adding too much liquid, which lead to really mushy pasta by the time it was absorbed. I used a very wide saute pan, but wonder if something smaller might have worked better. And even if the cooking technique had worked out, I thought the flavors were kind of boring. I added Herbes de Provence to my recipe, and used the pine nuts I had on hand in place of the cacao nibs.

At first I thought this was a crummy recipe, and that I wouldn't bother with it again. If my pasta boiling technique is working, then there is really no need to replace it. But before I wrote this post I found the original blog entry on the Chocolate and Zucchini website, and the description and resulting comments made me re-think my position. If so many people had great things to say about this dish, maybe it's worth another try to see if my technique improves and results in a new and interesting pasta dish. I might wait until the weather cools down a bit, and see how it works out as a fall evening pasta dinner. Let me know if you have any success with this recipe.

From Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

Ingredients (Serves 4)

6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
14 oz dried short pasta, such as ricciole, penne, or fusilli
4 small zucchini, cut into sticks or thin slices
2 tbsp cacao nibs (not chocolate-coated), toasted in a dry skillet and coarsely crushed (substitute with 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted)

Aged Parmesan, coarsely grated


  1. Pour stock in a pot over medium-high heat and keep warm.
  2. As stock is warming up, heat oil in a wide sauté pan. Add garlic and onion and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, until fragrant, stirring regularly to avoid colouring. Add pasta and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add just enough stock to cover pasta, and lower heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more stock when absorbed. Five minutes into cooking, add zucchini and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Taste pasta for doneness. If not quite done and all the liquid is absorbed, add a little more stock or water, cover, and cook for a few more minutes. Repeat until al dente consistency; total cooking time will depend on the type of pasta. Adjust seasoning, transfer into bowls or plates, sprinkle with cacao nibs and Parmesan, and serve immediately.


Nicole said...

Hmmm.... I love the Chocolate and Zucchini book! I bought it an read it like a novel. But I have yet to try the recipes. Maybe I will try it and see how mine works.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Looks nice!

Katie said...

What an interesting idea! Too bad it didn't work out.

You have a great blog!