I learned this method of cooking dried pasta from Eva Agnesi, the president of one of Italy’s largest pasta manufacturers. It works every time. If you use thick pasta like ziti or rigatoni, it should be boiled for 3 minutes, not 2.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, and put in the pasta. Bring it back to the boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid (place a folded tea-towel beneath the lid, if necessary, to ensure a tight fit), and let it cook for the full length of time given on the packet. While the water is first coming to the boil, prepare the sauce in a large pan by gently frying the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the beetroot, pepper and herbs, and when they are well coated in the oil, add the red wine. Let the mixture cook until the wine has almost evaporated before adding the balsamic vinegar. Lower the heat as far as possible at this stage, and let it cook for the time the pasta cooks. Drain the pasta, and stir it into the sauce together with the Parma ham. Transfer to a large heated bowl or individual bowls. Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top, and brighten it with chives or a leaf or two of parsley, if you wish.
Instead of red pasta, red onion, beetroot, red wine and oregano or sage, use yellow pasta, white onion, charred and skinned yellow peppers, white wine and a few threads of saffron.
Or, use green pasta, with white onion, courgettes, white wine and watercress.
© 1995 Frances Bissell. All rights reserved.