Q&A with Serena Cosmo of Rustic Plate

From pastafits.org, by kyacovone
Q&A with Serena Cosmo of Rustic Plate

For our June pasta spotlight, we sat down with food writer and blogger, Serena Cosmo. We got her take on her inspiration for new recipes, recommended food pairings, her favorite summer meals, and much more. Read on for all of her food and pasta insights!

1. We love looking through Rustic Plate for great recipe ideas and food inspiration. What inspires you to create a new Rustic Plate recipe?

My palate for starters!  Taste is my ultimate driver …my desire to make something delicious so I can then eat it. Pretty primal, I know. I’ll often look on Pinterest or peruse food blogs and food sites I love for inspiration and then combine elements from different dishes to create something that I think (hope!) will taste delicious. But at the end of the day, I only cook things that I am excited about eating.

Just as importantly, I am also driven by my need to create meal solutions for my family. Like most folks, I have a busy schedule and look for dishes that my entire family can enjoy, because who has time to make four different dishes on a Tuesday night, you know?  My grandmother, who had four children, fell in the trap of making something special for everyone and I think she left the kitchen once, in 1978.  Children, as many parents know, certainly don’t make preparing meals an easy task. I’ve found, however, that if I stick to uncomplicated flavors that are nevertheless savory and tasty I can usually get everyone eating happily at the table.

2. Your How-To page presents a lot of great cooking tips for things people may not be sure how to do when cooking. Do you have any tips for cooking pasta you can share?

  1. It’s important to stir the pasta several times in the first minute that it’s in the water. That’s what prevents pasta from sticking. Oil may work, but it creates a greasy pot that’s harder to clean and, more importantly, it leaves a film on the pasta that prevents the sauce from sticking to it, which is practically a tragedy.
  1. I frequently get asked about how to pair pasta shapes and sauces, which I really never thought about because I always just followed what I saw growing up in Italy and then living there as an adult. But I can see how it would be a little mystifying, so I’ve started sharing these two general guidelines:
  • Long, skinny pastas like spaghetti and linguine and twisty pasta shapes like gemelli, trofie and fusilli are best with a light cream- and oil-based sauces (think clam sauce or pesto)
  • Long, wide pastas like pappardelle and tube-shaped pastas like penne and rigatoni need rich, meaty, savory sauces.
  1. This may sound silly, but unless you have otherworldly powers of focus and concentration, set a timer for your pasta. I was once called un-Italian (the nerve!) for doing so, but I often get distracted by children, pets and other dishes cooking on the stove and the timer prevents me from forgetting about the pasta and overcooking it. I usually set the timer two minutes shy of the cooking directions on the pasta packaging. After that, I babysit the pasta so I can drain it the minute it’s al dente or cooked but still firm.
  1. Finally, don’t be afraid to salt the water. The general rule of thumb is one tablespoon of Kosher salt for every four cups of water. Most of it gets washed away when you drain the pasta, in case you’re concerned about sodium intake, but the little that gets absorbed in the pasta makes all the difference. Unsalted and salted peanuts are a good example of this. I only ever tried unsalted peanuts once, and that was enough for me.

3. At Pasta Fits, we like to focus on keeping our pasta meals nutritious and delicious by cooking with light sauces and plenty of veggies and protein. What are some of your favorite pairings to keep your pasta light and healthy?

Creating mouth-watering pairings is one of my favorite things!  Let’s see…off the top of my head I can think of a few, like:

Every combination has to include something that adds a little depth and extra savory flavor to the dish. Whether it’s browned fish or pancetta (or bacon) or a small amount of melted cheese, its presence is absolutely vital because it adds what I call the ‘bass’ note.  Without it, a dish just floats around in your mouth, all bland and uninspiring.

Thanks a lot…now I’m hungry!

4. Barbecue season is upon us! What are your favorite meals to make or bring to a barbecue?

I love having lots of sides at barbecues, probably because while I enjoy an occasional steak or burger from time to time, I’m not a chewing-every-last-bit-of-meat-off-the-bones type of carnivore. Instead, I revel in vegetable- and legume-focused dishes that offer bright and festive colors, a mixture of textures, and wholesome, filling ingredients. I always ask myself whether I have the right amount of sides if a vegetarian were to make an unexpected appearance. I’m satisfied with my menu when I feel I have enough sides to satisfy even the hungriest of non-meat eaters.

As far as the types of dishes that I make for my own barbecues, I’m going to shamelessly plug Rustic Plate and give you six that you can find on rusticplate.com. They are: Lemon-y Lima Bean Mash; Potato Salad with Roasted Red Peppers & Bacon Drippings; Baked Black Beans with Red Pepper & Ham; Fennel, Orange & Kalamata Olive Salad; Apple Slaw; and Glazed Beet, Toasted Hazelnut & Goat Cheese Salad.

5. Finally, can you share one of your favorite pasta recipes with us?

Wow …that’s like asking me for my favorite movie when Terms of Endearment, Shawshank Redemption, The Joy Luck Club, The Green Mile and so many other excellent ones swim in my mind vying for my attention.

I’d have to say I really enjoy eating Spaghetti with Salmon, Leeks & Feta. Fist, I just love the experience of twirling spaghetti around my fork. It’s so satisfying. You have no idea how many times I’ve taught people (at their request!) how to do it without using a spoon.  The dish also uses two of my favorite things, salmon and leeks, a combination that to me feels like the iconic American union of peanut butter and jelly.  Browning the salmon adds that pleasant savory taste known as umami, the leeks contribute mellow sweetness, and the feta gently brightens the dish. And it comes together rather easily, with the most time-consuming part being washing and chopping the leeks.

About Serena Cosmo:

Serena Cosmo is a writer, food educator and blogger. You can find her on www.rusticplate.com and on Facebook at Rustic Plate. A native of the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, she lives in Auburn with her husband, two daughters, a dog, a cat, two goldfish, 1 fresh water snail, 1 African dwarf frog, and 27 wooden cooking spoons.


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