Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Part Two of Italian Cooking

In Part II today, I'm going to talk about pasta.  I'm sure most of you know what it is and have eaten it many times.  What many of you may not know is that pasta doesn't just come in a box as a dry product.  You can buy or easily make fresh pasta too.

Now there is nothing wrong with using the dry pasta out of a box.  It's a great and convenient food.  Depending on where you live, it can be found  in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes.  Especially at an Italian market.  I'll just put my favorite one's link right here for you to check out.  Tenuta's

But you can also buy fresh pasta in the stores.  It is much more limited in shapes and sizes.  One problem is those in smaller markets/stores may not carry fresh pasta.  You will have to check your area for one that does carry it.

A third option is make it yourself.  Now many of you will say but I don't have a pasta machine.  Well you don't need one to make fresh pasta.  You'll be more limited on shapes and sizes but the basic ones are doable.  In fact, tomorrow's recipe is for "Homemade Pasta" so give it a try.

Once you have picked your pasta for the meal, it has to be cooked.  So let's talk about cooking pasta, both the dry kind and fresh pasta.  All pasta basically cooks the same way but different types, shapes, sizes or uses cook for different lengths of time.

For all pasta you need a large pot that can hold a lot of water.  You want about 3-4 quarts of water to every pound of pasta you cook.  Put the pot filled with cold water on the stove at high heat until it comes to a boil. Then add the salt to the water.  I would use about a tablespoon to a gallon of water.  After the salt is in the pot add the pasta.  How you add it depends on the kind you are cooking.  If it is long dry pasta, slowly put one end in the water and as it softens push the remaining pasta into the water and is completely immersed.  For short pastas, just pour them into the water.  Be sure to stir the pasta after it has been in the water about 30 seconds so it doesn't stick to it's self or the pot.  If cooking a filled pasta such as ravioli, carefully place it in the water.

The length of time to cook pasta varies.  For dry pasta follow the directions on the box.  I would suggest cooking it a minute or two less then it calls for so that the pasta is al dente.  This is especially true if you are going to add the pasta to the sauce in the pan and continue cooking a little before serving.

Fresh pasta takes much less time to cook, whether it is homemade or fresh bought.  The usual rule of thumb for pasta is 10-12 minutes for dry pasta, 2-3 minutes for fresh pasta and 8-10 minutes for filled pasta.  The filled pasta will usually float when it is done.  Frozen pasta is also available and most the time is a filled pasta. Again just follow directions on the package.

Once the pasta is cooked, what do you do?  Americans have a tendency to drain the pasta, rinse it and add olive oil to keep it from sticking together.  Only in American would we do such crazy things.  The rinsing removes the starch that helps the sauce to cling.  The oil keeps the sauce from clinging too.

The Italian way is to use a strainer that can be dipped into the pasta water and remove the pasta to the pan with the sauce.  They combine the pasta and sauce in one pan before putting on a serving platter or dish.  Americans usually serve the pasta and sauce in separate dishes.  Americans also use much more sauce to pasta then the Italians.  You decide on which way you will do it but I'll suggest trying the Italian way.

The other advantage of the Italian way is if you need a little liquid in the pan after combining pasta and sauce, you can just dip a little pasta water out and use it.  It adds great flavor without damaging the pasta dish.  Americans don't have any pasta water to use because they put it down the drain.

I hope this helps you with your pasta in the future.  The other recipe this week is for "Simple Pasta Sauce" and will be out there on Thursday.  Have a great week and "Happy Cooking."

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