Cooking ‘al cartoccio’ in Italian usually refers to baking in parchment or foil packets, but grilling al cartoccio is a great technique, as long as you use foil and not parchment. It opens up so many possibilities for outdoor cooking, including pasta on the grill.
Grilling pasta in aluminum foil packets allows you to forgo last-minute boiling and saucing of pasta; this is a great advantage when entertaining, since you can boil and sauce the pasta, and prepare the packets up to 3 hours ahead, then just pop them onto a hot grill (or in the cooler months, into a hot oven) a few minutes before you are ready to serve. It’s also a fabulous way to enjoy outdoor cooking when the craving for pasta strikes.
Since the pasta will cook further once it is on the grill, remember to cook it slightly under al dente so it is not overcooked by the time you pull the packets off the grill. And be sure to allow guests to open their own steaming packets at the table: the aroma exuded upon opening the packets will enthrall even the most jaded guest.
For the sauce:
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
- 2 pints grape tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 bunches arugula, leaves only, washed, dried, and cut into fine, thin strips
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Pecorino Romano
For the pasta:
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 pound spaghetti
Make the sauce: Place the olive oil, garlic, and chili in a large pan. Set over medium heat and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, season with the salt and pepper, and cook 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down and release their juices. Stir in the arugula until wilted and transfer to a large bowl; stir in the Pecorino and set aside.
Make the pasta: Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the spaghetti, and cook until the spaghetti are almost, but not quite, al dente, about 7 minutes (if using fresh spaghetti, cook less long, just until barely tender). Drain, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
Toss the spaghetti with the sauce in the bowl and adjust the seasoning if needed. Stir in the 1/2 cup of reserved pasta cooking water; the spaghetti will dry quite a bit as it cooks later.
Cut heavy-duty aluminum foil into four large squares. Place the aluminum foil on the counter, shiny side up. Mound the spaghetti, along with its sauce and any liquid that has collected in the bowl, on one side of each piece of aluminum foil (if you don’t include the liquid in the packets, the spaghetti will come out dry after cooking).
Fold the short sides of the aluminum foil over first, then seal the long side of the aluminum foil tightly as well, rolling the foil over itself a few times so that the cooking juices cannot run out once the packets are placed on the grill. (The recipe can be made up to this point 3 hours ahead; do not refrigerate or the spaghetti will become tough in the refrigerator.)
Heat a grill on high for 10 minutes (or preheat the oven to 400 degrees).
Arrange the packages seam side up on the grill and grill for 5 minutes (or if baking, place the packets on a baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes), or until the spaghetti inside feels hot to the touch.
Place each aluminum foil packet on a dinner plate and serve immediately, letting guests open the packets at the table.