Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to Cook Perfect Pasta

PASTA! omg who doesn't love pasta, I mean talk about the ultimate comfort food.  There are so many different shapes and sizes and colors!  Why do they have all those different shapes anyway? Well basically besides looking appealing and fun it does serve a purpose.  Different shapes are meant to be used with a certain sauce- for example penne rigate (which is the penne most of us are familiar with probably) is good with lots of different sauces- from vodka sauce to marinara.  Rigate just means with lines or ridges- it helps hold the sauce onto the pasta.  (see photo)

For more info then you'll ever need on pasta shapes and what to use them with, check out the National Pasta Association website: http://www.ilovepasta.org/shapes.html

Cooking pasta correctly helps aid in adhering the sauce to the pasta.  Think it's all just throwing pasta into water? Let's see how much you know:

Getting Started
First step is having enough water- you need to fill your biggest pot with water to boil a pound of pasta.  You need a lot of water so the pasta starch has somewhere to go.  It also gives the pasta room to move around so it wont stick to each other.  What's that you're thinking? Boiling that much water takes forever? Here's a tip: Before you even start cooking anything else put the water on to boil-pasta should be the last thing you cook anyway because it only takes a couple minutes.  So by the time you are ready for the pasta, the water should be boiling.

What to Add
Next: what to add in the water: JUST SALT! no oil or fancy tricks your grandma swears by.  Why salt? Well salt flavors the pasta when it boils, you should be throwing in at least a handful of KOSHER salt.  It should taste close to ocean water. For a long time I thought- hey why not just add salt at the end? It seems like a huge amount of salt, but you cannot get that same flavor if you just throw salt on top.  Try it out- taste the pasta boiled with and without salt- I noticed the taste difference right away.  The pasta will absorb some of this salt but most will end up down your drain with the rest of the water (but hey salt is cheap, so don't worry).  I actually used to think that by adding salt it will boil faster- nope- another myth- it's all for the taste factor.

Oh, and about the oil: jeez do not add oil to the water- Ive heard nonnas say it helps by not having the water boil over- um why not just lower the flame? It also does not make your pasta not stick together- because duh oil and water don't mix (think vingarettes) if your pasta is sticking together see paragraph above about not using enough water.  AND the worst part about using oil is that in the end it will make your sauce slide right off the pasta- the starch on the pasta helps sauce stick- don't screw with it!

Cook your pasta al dente, which means in Italian literally means "to the tooth" aka firm to the bite aka under-done.  We cook pasta al dente- just like we under cook meat a bit and then let it rest (meat finishes cooking becasue of the remaining carry-over heat) because when you mix the pasta with the hot sauce later it finishes the cooking process.  So what if you're just dressing with oil and butter- personally I would cook for a minute or so longer than if I mixed with a hot sauce and then serve immediately. 

Serve anyway you like. MmmMMm I wish I was eating some pasta right now! Usually, like I mentioned before, you toss with hot sauce and top with some fresh herbs (if you have).  Pasta, meatballs, some grated cheese and crusty bread is one of my fav meals.

Now make some perfect pasta with my Homemade Tomato Sauce, Part One tonight! and stay tuned for different sauce recipes- but remember the sauce wont matter if the pasta isn't cooking correctly! Buon appetito!

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