Pasta must be made from pure semolina flour and water – nothing else, although most U.S. brands add folic acid (iron). The best pastas come from Italy, but any properly made pasta may work for you. Barilla pasta sold in the U.S. is now made here, but it’s still just as good as what is made in Italy and what we bought in Germany.
If you use egg noodles with any of our pasta recipes, don't complain to us about the results. Spinach pasta isn't really pasta, but it looks nice and sometimes tastes good.
“Pasta” means paste. It comes in a lot of forms – spaghetti, vermicelli, and many forms of shells, butterflies, and so on. You can use any kind of pasta for anything, but there is a reason for the shapes.
Shapes: Straight pastas like spaghetti are best for mostly fluid sauces. The shells and tubes are better for sauces that have lumps in them – the beans or other lumps get caught in the holes and make it all taste better. We use vermicelli for cheese sauces, spaghetti for most tomato, meat and similar sauces. When beans or chick peas come into the picture, we go for the fancy shapes. Fettuchini in Italy is an egg pasta. Not in America. It's just the same as spaghetti, just a little thicker. Vermicelli now appears to be called "Thin Spaghetti".
Pasta as an appetizer: We Americans are used to having spaghetti as a main dish. Italians often use it as a “starter”. To do this, say with Vermicelli con Provolone, cut the serving size in half. Then, follow with a main dish.
Cooking pasta: First, put your pasta bowls in the oven at low heat (100°C, 200°F). This keeps the pasta warm when served.
Most recipes say “a pound of pasta for four people”. Rubbish! Weigh the pasta or measure it so that you always have the same amount for the same number of people. We plan on 100g (2-3 oz.) per person. A pound is 494g, so maybe I’m being picky. But if you’re serving two, 200g is a lot less than 250g. The "normal" serving is 2 ounces per person, or 113g. It even says so on the package.
Timing is everything. Heat water (lots of water, and put the top on the pot) to a rolling boil, add a tablespoonful of salt and wait until the water boils again. Remove the top and set aside. Put all the pasta in at once, and wait until the water boils again. For straight pasta, be sure all of it is in the water.
When the water is boiling again, set a timer for the manufacturer’s recommended cooking time (Vermicelli about 5 minutes, spaghetti about 9 minutes). You can always taste a strand of the pasta to be sure it is al dente (slightly chewy), but I find the timing method works very reliably. While the pasta is cooking, stir at least once to be sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot.
When the bell rings, pour the pasta into a colander and let it drain.
If you will be using a fluid sauce, drizzle a little Olive Oil onto the pasta in the colander and stir. This coats the pasta so that it doesn’t absorb the liquid from the sauce as quickly. If you are using a cream sauce, like a carbonara, use melted butter.
Fresh pasta is very good, doesn’t need much cooking and is very fashionable. At the end of the meal, however, I haven’t yet been able to tell you if the pasta was fresh or not. The standard stuff out of the box is fine for me; I am, after all, a Philistine.
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