Recently, I’ve had a upsurge in requests for pasta. So perhaps a bit of background / info on types, cooking and saucing is in order.
Pasta is a generic term for foods made from an unleavened dough of flour and water, and sometimes a combination of egg and flour. Pastas include noodles in various lengths, widths and shapes, and varieties that are filled with other ingredients like ravioli and tortellini. The word pasta is also used to refer to dishes in which pasta products are a primary ingredient. It is usually served with sauce.
There are approximately 600 different shapes of pasta. Examples include spaghetti (thin rods), macaroni (tubes or cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets). Two other noodles, gnocchi and spätzle, are sometimes considered pasta. They are both traditional in parts of Italy.
Pasta is categorized in two basic styles: dried and fresh. Dried pasta made without eggs can be stored for up to two years under ideal conditions, while fresh pasta will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator. Pasta is generally cooked by boiling. I will not classify pasta as a strictly Italian dish as noodles seems to be an almost universal food item.
Some folks seem to think cooking pasta like cooing rice is a mystical art form known only to wizards in their kitchens and little old italian ladies… WRONG! Cooking pasta is simple, it only takes a few simple steps and you only need to follow a few simple rules.
- Always use a lot of water
I use a gallon of water per pound of pasta, any less and the pasta will not shed starch, and it will stick together.
- Always salt your water
I use approx 1 tablespoon of salt, (the real stuff, not a salt subsitute), per gallon of water. It should taste like sea water
- Always start with a rolling boil
Make sure the water is boiling well, if you can stop the boil by stiring, keep on adding the heat, it’s not a rolling boil.
- Never add oil / grease to the water
This only keeps the sauce from sticking later, and it does not keep the water from foaming over.
- Add pasta slowly, and stir to separate
Adding the pasta slowly helps the water keep it’s boil, stiring will help it to separate, cook and prevent sticking.
- Time your pasta
Start the timer only after the water returns to a boil. Most pasta will cook according to package directions. For al dente, use the lower time
- Partial cook pasta for casseroles
Take an extra minute or two off the minimum time, for baked pasta.
- Juggle the heat to control foam
Pasta give off starch when it cooks, this generates foam from the boil. Tweak the heat down to control the bubbles.
- Taste the pasta
As it approaches cooked, fish out a strand and chew with you back teeth, if it has a slight resistance, you are done
- Do not rinse hot pasta
If a pasta is to be sauced and served hot do not rinse the starch off. If it is to be used in a cold dish, rinse so that it will not stick together
- Use the right pasta for the sauce
A very simple rule, heavy pasta, heavy sauce, light pasta light sauce. What’s a light pasta ? Angel hair. Heavy? Taglatelli.
- Use cook water as a thinner / glue for sauce
A couple of tablespoons of pasta water will help the sauce spread and coat the pasta.
- Sauce in the pan
I cook my sauces in a wok and add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat
Again pasta sauces and saucing are not high witchcraft, but a fairly simple set of rules.
One basic rule, Thin sauce – thin pasta, heavy sauce – heavy pasta.
A shaped sauce with ridges, crevasses (Shells, etc) will handle the thickest / hardiest of meat sauces, while a wide noodle can handle medium cream sauces, and thin round noodles really are meant for thin oil and garlic sauces.
Some common pastas I keep on hand… I will not get into the size / naming wilderness, I’ll just list the ones I use most.
|Capellini||Long||Very Light / Olive Oil||Cooks very quickly, I use in soups|
|Spaghetti||Long||Medium / Cream / Tomato /Olive Oil||Good Flavor in whole wheat|
|Linguine||Long||Works with almost any sauce||Nice with Cheese Sauce|
|Fettuccine||Long||Heavy Sauces||Fettuccine Alfredo|
|Thin Egg||Ribbon||Very Light / Olive Oil||Think Chicken Noodle|
|Thick Egg||Ribbon||Meat / Creams||Think Casseroles|
|Lasagna||Riggon||Meat / Cheese / Creams||Think Lasagna|
|Rigatoni||Tube||Tomato / Cheese / Creams||Think Stuffed|
|Macaroni||Tube||Cheese / Creams||Think Mac and Cheese|
|Penne||Tube||Tomato / Vodka / Creams||Think Penne Vodka|
|Shells||Shape||Tomato / Cheese / Creams||Think Shells and Cheese|
|Farfalle||Shape||Tomato / Cheese / Creams||Bow-Ties|
|Rotini||Shape||Tomato / Cheese / Creams||Spirals|
|Ruote||Shape||Tomato / Cheese / Creams||Wagon Wheels|
|Radiatore||Shape||Tomato / Cheese / Creams||Radiators|