The fastest way to improve your weeknight pasta

Freshly made noodles, slightly crispy and tossed in a rich, fiery sauce, rapidly disappear by the forkful. We're not describing our ideal take-out order, but a spicy pasta recipe that's going to transform your weeknight routine forever.

Sarah Grueneberg, this year's James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Great Lakes, lets us in on her secret for cooking pasta in an entirely new way, and we're completely hooked. It's time to brush off the wok collecting dust on top of your cabinet: You're going to need it.

An expert in pasta making who cut her teeth on Italian cuisine in the kitchen at Chicago's Spiaggia and by taking frequent trips to Italy, Grueneberg is well versed in traditional methods. At her two-year-old West Loop restaurant, Monteverde, diners can watch what insiders affectionately call "pasta TV": cooks rolling out noodles and stuffing ravioli at a station behind the bar. All pasta is made fresh to order, whether it's the cacio whey pepe (exactly what it sounds like: a play on the traditional dish that incorporates whey to make a more robust sauce) or the seasonal egg-filled raviolo filled with sweet corn, ricotta and Espelette peppers with nori on top.

Pasta names you're probably mispronouncing
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Pasta names you're probably mispronouncing

The Wrong Way: Few-silly

The Right Way: Foo-zeel-ee

The spiral shape really holds onto the Parmesan cheese. 

RELATED: 15 Cheese Names You’re Probably Mispronouncing

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Or-reh-shetty

The Right Way: Or-ay-key-et-ay

This ear-shaped pasta is perfect with pesto.

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Tag-lie-ah-tell

The Right Way: Tah-leah-tell-ah

A flat or cylindrical noodle, typically found drowning in Bolognese sauce.

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Buck-a-tiny

The Right Way: Boo-cah-teen-ee

It walks and talks like spaghetti but is hollow—and slightly thicker. 

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Pen-ay

The Right Way: Peh-neh

This ridged pasta really works overtime to absorb the sauce.

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Pepper-del

The Right Way: Pa-par-day-lay

It’s tagliatelle’s slightly bulkier cousin.

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Feta-cheen

The Right Way: Fay-tuh-chee-knee

It’s all about the creamy sauce.

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Far-fall

The Right Way: Far-fall­-ay

Bow-tie pasta is the cutest.

Photo: Getty Images


The Wrong Way: Guh-no-chee

The Right Way: Neh-yo-key

Think of it as little pasta pillows. Yum. 

RELATED: The One Pasta Recipe You Need to Know

Photo: Getty Images


But when it comes to one of her favorite dishes, pasta arrabbiata, Grueneberg employs a less orthodox technique. "Arrabbiata means 'angry' in Italian," the chef says, who asked herself, "How do I make it more 'angry' without adding more spice?" Enter the wok: her "aha moment."

Grueneberg brings the heat to pasta arrabbiata by searing the sauce and noodles in an almost-smoking wok (see the recipe) for a dish that's as fun to make as it is to eat. As if it needed more life, she mixes in shrimp and homemade chile oil, which, pro tip, is great drizzled on everything from Chinese takeout to pizza.

The pan's high heat fries the tomato paste and tomatoes, making for a savory sauce that cooks in no time. "The surface area is really important, because you can stir the sauce up the sides and it can caramelize," Grueneberg explains. For that, you'll need a flat spoon with a long handle.

As for the noodles, they get a little crisp but still retain their soft, fresh texture with this technique. You can, of course, always use boxed noodles, but when making them fresh is as easy as it is in this recipe, it's definitely worth the effort. Grueneberg suggests using 00 flour and making sure you have really good eggs: just the yolks for strand pasta and whole eggs for filled pasta.

8 pastas that only take 8 minutes to make
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8 pastas that only take 8 minutes to make

3. Curtis Stone’s Carbonara

Photo: Rachael Ray

5. Curtis Stone's Shrimp with Pesto

Photo: Rachael Ray

6. Curtis Stone’s Seafood Pasta

Photo: Rachael Ray


For mixing the dough, the chef also prefers using the well method of creating a divot for the eggs in a mound of flour, as opposed to whipping it all up in a food processor. Making the dough by hand lets you see and feel exactly how it's coming together, she explains.

The dough's texture—whether you're rolling out strand pasta or filled—is crucial, and to achieve the ideal consistency, Grueneberg warns against adding too much water. "After it rests, it'll become softer," she reminds us, suggesting the dough rests anywhere between 30 minutes to 1 hour to overnight.

When your pasta is ready to (ahem) roll, it's really important to have all of your mis en place, as working with a wok means the heat is on and you won't have time to chop or assemble. So make sure all of your ingredients are prepped and set out.

Another pro tip? "You have to be not scared to cook on high heat, and don't be afraid to clean your kitchen afterward," Grueneberg says. Sure, you might get a spatter or two from tossing the noodles in the air, but after all is said and done, you'll definitely be left with a clean plate.

This month, we've decided to Turn Up the Heat, and nothing's off-limits—not even dessert. We're bringing you all the fiery recipes, spicy dishes and hot new trends you can handle.

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