Basic Recipe: Perfect Pasta

perfect-pasta-600To cook perfect pasta, it helps to know how different types are prepared and used.  There are over 350 different shapes but there are differences other than shape and thickness.

  • The variety of wheat and processing system makes a big difference in taste and texture.
  • In Europe, Durham wheat is often used for pasta because it is hard and has little gluten.
  • After cleaning it is called whole wheat and has the most nutrients. It has a brown hue.
  • Then it is milled to remove the outer layer (bran and endosperm) and now called semolina which has a yellow hue.
  • Semolina and whole wheat grains are ground into flour for pasta.
  • Whole wheat is coarser with more nutrients.
  • In Asia, Buckwheat, Rice and Mung Beans can also be ground into flour for noodles.

But, there is more to look for when shopping for pasta.

  • When buying dry pasta, look for a rough surface which allows the sauce to adhere to the pasta. Smooth pasta is produced with Teflon dies rather than brass and sauce slips off the surface leaving a wet puddle on the plate.
  • Thick, odd-shaped  pasta, like wheels, Penne, tortellini, and tubes work well with chunky sauces and hold up well in soups and robust salads.
  • Thinner spaghetti and egg noodles are best used in casseroles and with light sauces like  a simple, tasty Feta cheese and herb/oil sauce.
  • For a special treat you can buy stuffed pasta
pasta-chart-fixed

Excerpt from our soon-to-be-published cooking guide $10 Meals for a Family of Six

1. Bring water (see chart for minimum amounts) to a rolling boil. Add salt  and pasta.

2. Gently stir to separate the pasta. Stir again later while it cooks.

3. See package for cooking times or see chart on the right if you buy in bulk.

One minute before time, remove a strand and chew it.. You want an al dente, or slightly chewy texture — not mushy. If it is hard or starchy tasting, give it 1 more minute and check again.

4. When pasta is a uniform translucent yellow, drain the pasta in a colander without rinsing or shaking it dry.

5. Immediately Fold pasta into the sauce and simmer for a minute so  the sauce “bonds” to the pasta.

Notes:

  • For Salad: Rinse in cool water, toss with olive oil or salad dressing and again while cooling. Refrigerate and serve when cool as per recipe.
  • Cooking with salt adds flavor. Most dietitians agree that very little salt sticks to the pasta.
  • Use lots of water when boiling pasta to  keep it loose and from sticking to sides or bottom.
  • Most failures are caused by overcooking or using the wrong sauce.
  • Want low-fat? It’s not the pasta, it’s in the sauce.

About.com has extensive information about pasta and recipes for making pasta from scratch. I became pleasantly lost by  following all their links for preparing stuffed pasta. I plan on exploring the world of stuffing pastas after I feel fully comfortable with making pasta sauces from scratch and write the next post on sauces.    Don R