When we think of pasta, our minds are instantly transported to colorful bistros on the cobbled streets in Italy. We see the deft hands of Italian cooks rolling out mounds of fresh pasta to pair with savory tomato sauces. Who could have imagined that a humble mixture of flour and water could turn into one of the most beloved staples of global cuisine?
While we can thank early Italian and Sicilian immigrants for popularizing pasta in America, the birth land of pasta is much farther east than Italy and Sicily. Records from Ancient China show that the Chinese were feasting on pasta as early as 3,000 BCE. Early European explorers in China most likely tasted pasta there and brought the recipes home. The rest is culinary history.
Today, food experts opine that over 300 types of pasta exist. Over the centuries, Italian pasta masters created a myriad of pasta shapes and often gave them whimsical names. The shape of the pasta determined whether to match it with a delicate or hearty sauce. Most American cooks are familiar with spaghetti, linguini, lasagna, and macaroni; however, grocery stores are expanding their collection to include other classic pasta varieties.
Pasta is one of the most versatile ingredients in your pantry. It can be dressed up with meat, veggies, and sauces, or it can stand alone with a little butter and fresh herbs. Pasta joins potatoes and rice as healthy choices for a starchy dish in a meal.
Does your family enjoy pasta? I couldn’t imagine a more flexible and inexpensive way to create delicious family meals than with pasta. Even though pasta is a simple food that is not difficult to prepare, it intimidates some home cooks. They've had bad experiences with their pasta being too chewy or mushy. If this has been your problem, help is on the way!
These are some of my best pasta tips & tricks that I learned from years of working in my kitchen. Allow me to demystify the process and show you how to make the perfect batch of tasty pasta every time! Enjoy some of my smart recipes for easy homemade pasta and yummy tomato sauce. Your family will love it!
Know Your Pasta
While the basic ingredients of pasta are flour and water, they are not created equally. Amp up your usual pasta choice and find other shapes and flavors your family has never tried. Some pastas contain pureed veggies to add vibrant color to your pasta salads. Some people prefer fresh pasta over dried pasta. Find out which pastas are better with light sauces and vinaigrettes and which ones do well with heavy meat or cheese toppings. Surprise your family with pastas of different shapes and textures.
Have you ever been perplexed over how much pasta to serve for a meal? Usually, I figure about 2 ounces per person, which equals 3/4 of a cup each. With a family of 4, measure 3 cups of dried pasta. Of course, you can’t put larger noodles like spaghetti or fettuccine in a measuring cup. Instead, grasp a small bunch of these pastas in your hand like a pole. A small bunch of pasta with the diameter of a quarter equals about 2 ounces. For quick measuring, most department stores have plastic pasta gauges that are inexpensive. Each graduated hole represents how many pasta servings.
The Secret to Perfect Pasta
One of the reasons some people have a sticky mess when cooking pasta is that they did not use enough water. Pasta loves to have plenty of elbow room to tumble, stretch and cook to perfection. For every pound of pasta you cook, you will need 1 gallon of water. One pound of pasta equals about 4 cups of short pasta or 2 cups of long pasta. I like to use a medium stock pot when I make pasta.
How to cook a perfect al dente noodle?
Another trick to remember is to add a generous amount of salt to your water before boiling. Since most pasta is just flour and water, it is quite bland without salt. For adequately seasoned pasta, add 1/4 cup of salt for every gallon of water. You want your water to be salty like the sea.
Some cooks swear by adding olive oil to their boiling pasta water to keep it from sticking together. I found that this makes the pasta too oily and it won’t allow for proper sauce coverage. If you give your pasta enough room and water, sticking won’t be an issue.
Over medium-high heat, bring the salted water to a rolling boil and add the pasta. Stir the pasta until the water starts to boil again. After about 7 minutes of boiling, try a piece of pasta. While you do not want it to be hard, you want your pasta to have a bit of “bite" to it. The Italians call this perfectly cooked pasta “al dente”, meaning “to the tooth”.
Use a colander to drain your pasta well. I like to save a little bit of the pasta water for thickening my sauce. Don’t rinse your pasta, because it will rinse away the necessary layer of starch that makes your sauce cling correctly. Remember to use your drained pasta as soon as possible, so it doesn’t cool and starts to stick.
These elementary steps will give you tasty, al dente pasta every time. Go beyond macaroni and explore the plethora of pasta options. You won’t be intimidated to cook pasta anymore!