Here’s something I’ve always wondered: when baking pasta, as in, say, lasagna or baked ziti, why do you always cook the pasta first? Aren’t you inviting trouble by cooking it once, then proceeding to put it in a casserole and cooking it again? Well, there’s the obvious first part of the answer to this question: pasta needs to absorb water as it cooks—a lot of water, around 80 percent of its own weight when perfectly al dente. So, add raw pasta directly to a baked pasta dish, and it will soften all right—it’ll also suck up all of the moisture from the sauce, leaving it dry or broken.
I thought the pasta drew moisture from the sauce. It does… resulting in dry sauce. I’ve always wondered about those pastas marketed as not needing to be boiled first—how are they different from regular pasta or is this just some marketing ploy? Anyway, traditionally recipes recommend boiling the pasta first.
Maybe you come seeking dairy-free recipes, or want to make vegan risotto. Maybe you live a crazy-healthy lifestyle, or just go crazy for onions. Or maybe, just maybe, you simply love the idea of serving soups, pastas, and sauces that taste fresher and brighter than tradition dictates. Enter this remarkable—and remarkably easy—technique, ideal for people with lactose intolerance but everyone else, too. Just roast some onions, remove the skins, blend the gooey insides with a little lemon, salt, and olive oil, and there you have it: an awesome onion purée that you can swap for cream in any number of savory dishes. Try it tonight for a dish with lush, tongue-coating texture and richness, along with a novel, light-and-lovely quality to punch up your go-to meals. The fact that those meals are now way better for you? Well that just sweetens the deal.
It’s not exactly a cream substitute — you’d never mistake one for the other. But it might be an even better alternative. Because as much as some of us love cream for adding richness and body, it can wash out all nearby flavors … instead of obscuring flavours, the onion purée enhances them, like a well-made stock.