What would Julia do?

  • Article by: BY MEREDITH DEEDS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2012 - 1:45 PM

A distracted cook and an unwatched pan of penne made for a happy culinary surprise -- and a new family favorite.

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Crispy Penne With Roasted Vegetables.

Photo: Meredith Deeds, Special to the Star Tribune

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It never fails. Whenever I teach a cooking class there is always a moment when I break into a Julia Child impression. I don't plan to do it. It just kind of happens.

And it probably happens for two good reasons:

1. I do an excellent Julia Child impression (well, as least it makes me laugh).

2. She has the best quotes and I find myself thinking of them almost every time I cook. Two of my favorites are "Always remember: If you're alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who's going to know?" and "You should never apologize at the table. People will think, 'Yes, it's really not so good.'"

Both quotes refer to the fact that if you do something you think is wrong in the course of cooking, just correct the course and go with it. Sometimes it turns out to be the right course after all.

Which is how Crispy Pasta became a favorite meal at my house. I was tossing penne in a little olive oil, when I was distracted by a phone call. I returned and noticed that the pasta had begun to brown. Thinking of those delicious crispy Asian noodle cakes my family loves so much, I decided to just "go with it" and continue to cook the pasta until it took on the same chestnut color and wonderful crisp texture as those noodle cakes.

When the pasta was done, I tossed it with some roasted vegetables I was going to serve as a side and topped it with a little feta cheese and toasted pine nuts. The roasted vegetables had collapsed just enough to "sauce" the pasta without making it soggy, and the penne, which had become a deep golden brown in the olive oil, took on an absolutely addictive crispy/chewiness and an almost nutty flavor. This was the pasta equivalent of a potato chip.

This technique is easy to do and great if you have leftover cooked pasta in the fridge. In fact, one of the things I love most about this dish is that it's what I refer to as a "clearing the decks" recipe. It's great for when you're looking at a refrigerator full of food that needs to be eaten and you can't quite figure out how to piece it all together for a meal. Leftover steak or grilled chicken, sautéed or roasted vegetables, as well as most cheeses, make a great companion to the crispy penne.

Just make sure that whatever you add isn't so moist that it will make the pasta wet. The beauty of preparing pasta this way lies in its crispy nature. Too much moisture will ruin a good thing. Also, the pasta itself needs to be as dry as possible before sautéing it. If you try this with pasta that is dripping wet, your chances of the pasta sticking and ripping to shreds is increased dramatically. So drain it thoroughly after you remove it from the cooking water.

But even if it does shred, just remember Julia and tell your family you're experimenting with a new cooking technique. Who knows, they may love crispy shredded noodles.

Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.

  • THE RIGHT COMBINATIONS

    Crispy pasta is a great vehicle for a large variety of flavors, making it a technique that you can use year-round. Here are just a few possibilities.

    • Sautéed Ziti With Sliced Grilled Steak, Blue Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

    • Sautéed Farfalle With Roasted Asparagus or Broccoli, Lemon Zest, Mascarpone and Parmesan

    • Sautéed Penne With Sautéed Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

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