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What is Spaghetti Al Cartoccio?

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  • Written By: J. Airman
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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Spaghetti al Cartoccio is an Italian pasta dish served in a parchment paper or aluminum foil packet. Long noodles are partially cooked in boiling water, strained and lightly dressed in a moist sauce before being sealed into packets to finished in a hot oven. Baking in sealed parchment paper or foil packages steams the noodles to finish cooking them and causes them to absorb the flavors of the sauce for a well-balanced taste. The elements of a Spaghetti al Cartoccio sauce vary greatly throughout the different regions of Italy, but commonly include locally grown vegetables or even seafood. Guests are commonly presented with individual servings of Spaghetti al Cartoccio and instructed to open them at the last moment before eating the contents.

The surprise element involved in the presentation of Spaghetti al Cartoccio invites diners to enjoy unwrapping their meal as if they were revealing a special gift. Opening a package of Spaghetti al Cartoccio must be done with some care, however, to avoid receiving a burn from the exiting steam. Spreading or cutting open the packet on the far side allows the steam to vent away from the exposed skin of the face and hands. Packets of Spaghetti al Cartoccio are usually served on plates to catch any liquids that drain from them. Some chefs choose to make a small incision in the top of the parchment or partially spread the foil in front of the diners to avoid causing injury to their guests.

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Sealed packets of Spaghetti al Cartoccio can also be made in advance; when stored in the refrigerator, it should remain fresh for a couple days. Ten to fifteen minutes in a preheated oven completes the cooking process and heats the dish without drying it out.

The French term "en papillote" is often used in the culinary world to describe a variety of vegetables or protein dishes cooked in foil and parchment paper packages. The technique involves folding the edges of the food packets and creasing them firmly to create a seal that holds in moisture as the building steam generates internal pressure. High oven temperatures and a well-sealed package generally leave the contained foods tender and moist as they are continuously basted throughout the cooking process. Pasta that is finished cooking in sauce releases starches that thicken the sauce and cause it to cling to the noodles. Packet steaming techniques in French and Italian cooking regularly incorporate the use of fresh herbs and aromatic vegetables to season the steam.

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