Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What kind of Pasta should I use when cooking?

I always get asked "Should I use fresh or dry pasta when I cook?"  The answer depends on you and your market.

The "you" part has several factors that come into play.  First is your budget because fresh pasta is more expensive than dry pasta.  So maybe your budget is a dry pasta one, but that doesn't mean you can't up your game for "Special" occasions and buy fresh.  Second is how comfortable you are with pasta.  I believe this is really silly, but some people are afraid of "fresh" pasta because it sounds more difficult than the dry.  There really isn't any reason for this because they are both easy to cook and use.  Now making fresh pasta is a whole different subject but that just takes a little practice and the right equipment.

Now comes "your market" part.  It depends on where you live (small town, big city, etc.) and what the stores in  your area offer for product.  Many small markets may not have the volume to stock fresh pasta.  Then there may be someone/vendor that makes fresh pasta in your area.  If so, take advantage of them.

You can order pasta from various websites too.  I know of one that makes, sells and ships "Organic Pasta" in many different flavors.  Their website also offers a wide variety of pasta sauce recipes to use with the organic pasta.  Check them out at their website here Artisan Italian by Dakota Earth.  I have met Dan, but Elizabeth is really the person behind the pasta making.  I suggest you give them a chance.  For those of you in the Sioux City and Sioux Falls area, they do the "Farmer's Market" in those towns from July to October on Saturdays.

There are now whole wheat and other healthy styles of dry  pasta.  Be sure to look into them when shopping.

Alright, you have picked your pasta.  Now a few helpful hints on cooking and using it in your meal.

You should have at least a 6 to 8 quart pot for cooking pasta as it takes a lot of water.  You want to use 4 quarts or more of water when cooking up to a pound of pasta.  You want to get the water to a hard boil before adding a tablespoon of salt and then the pasta.  Stir it once it has been added and start timing from when the water returns to a boil.  Remember to occasionally stir the pasta (carefully) and cook without a lid.  Cook according to the package directions for time.  It differs on time between fresh and dry pasta.  Below are some average cooking times for both.

Dry Pasta: 8 to 12 minutes (long thin is quicker than long fat pasta)

The whole wheat and healthier pasta takes a little longer to cook.

Fresh Pasta: 1 to 3 minutes ( same here for thin and fat)

With both types of pasta, you need to taste it to check for doneness.  The pasta, when tasted, should feel tender with a little resistance.  However, stuffed pasta (ravioli, tortellini, etc.) will usually float when they are done.

Depending on how it is going to be served or used, you want to cook the pasta al dente.  Over cooking pasta  gives it a mushy texture.  If you are going to add it to a pan of sauce and continue cooking, you want it a little under al dente because it will continue to cook in the pan.  If you are going to serve it separate from the sauce, just drain and serve.  If it will be a few minutes before service, add a little olive oil or butter to the pasta and toss in the pot.  Be sure to cover with a lid to help keep it warm.

Remember not to rinse the pasta when it is drain unless you are making it for a cold dish.  Then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and drain well.  You may need a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together before refrigerating it.

This is not everything you need to know about pasta but I hope it helps you get more adventurous with using it.

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