Obviously an important thing to my family and culture, pasta is a great carbohydrate that has a great disservice done to it every day. When I hear about or see the ways in which people cook pasta, I honestly understand why they don’t make it that often. Hopefully I can give you some tips on how to cook pasta properly, cheaply, and without making an ‘English mess’ of the meal…
I know there are a lot of health concerned people worried about eating carbs. I would say that if you are worried about this, do not cut them out straight away. Without the proper replacement for that quick release energy, your either gonna be really tired, craving sweets or a bit smelly – yes smelly.* This is why I choose to eat carbs either at lunch or an early dinner before I go and do something, like going out or exercising before bed. I like my carbs – within reason – and I know I feel fuller and instantly energetic after eating a lovely spaghetti Bolognese at lunch. So before you rule out eating badly cooked pasta, try a small portion of this specially prepared carb and think about ruling that out for the rest of your life – remember, the orients are famous for looking young and healthy, and they live on rice and fish.
Ok so, pasta. Back to the cooking – here we go:
First: choose the shape – yes it matters. Different shapes have different amounts of flour or egg in it, have different consistencies and work well with different sauces. Remember that some pasta is long and stringy so when you eat it with a sauce with bits (meat/veg/nuts) it gets tangled and you get a nice balance of flavours per forkful. However, some pasta is small and tube like, so having it with no sauce but pieces of other ingredients (like aglio’olio**), you’re going to end up eating plan pasta with a bowl full of garlic at the bottom.
Second, prepare the pot. Use boiling water, and only put the pasta in when it’s on a rolling boil – literally the water is rolling over from the bubbles.
DO NOT BREAK YOUR SPAGHETTI (or linguine or bucattine etc)***. This is meant to be long strands so it can easily be wound round a fork with lots of sauce on it. Break it up and you will end up with Heinz style spaghetti which is about this long. Try getting that on a fork.
Add a little salt to make it boil faster and a little oil so the pasta doesn’t stick together when you drain it.
Stir the pasta occaisionally – meaning once when you put the pasta in, and then every 3-5 minutes. Stirring too often brings down the temperature of the water so it will take longer to cook, and also breaks up the pasta. You don’t want your spirali and fusilli to unravel do you?****
Try your pasta. There are three kinds in my book: crunchy, al dente and slime. Crunchy pasta is a no go obviously, al dente (meaning like teeth) means no crunch but maybe a little tough and I call the last one slime because when you overcook the pasta, the water is absorbed and you basically get jellied strands of flour and egg. Al dente is great for spaghetti type pastas and thin pastas like fusilli, while I tend to cook penne and spirali, tube-like pasta a little more until they start to swell a bit. Stir it less at this point, and remember that every minute counts.
Drain it and don’t leave it. You can’t leave pasta in a pan with water – this equals slime. But equally, if you leave it in the dry, drained, hot pan you cooked it in, it will be half soggy and half stiff. So first, pour a glass of cold water in to cool it down, drain the pasta and put it with its sauce straight away.
This could either be on the plate or, as I prefer, into the sauce pan. This way, you can cook pasta in the sauce a bit (use al dente pasta as it will not break up and has ‘space’ to absorb juices) and the meal taste a lot more together and less like pasta with a side of sauce. They should be mixed. Save some sauce to drizzle or spoon over the top for show if you like a big chunk of sauce to mix in yourself.
Use a nice cheese – a lot of people don’t use cheese on fish, or use pecorino instead of parmesan, so check your recipe or test the cheese with a piece of pasta before you grate it on. It can be that perfect extra something you were looking for.
Enjoy with a good wine or water 🙂
*The popular Atkin’s diet, which cuts out carbs in order to start the body using the fat stores, was based on research done on people in the German concentration camps (as with many sciences today, this isn’t a harsh criticism). Here, they noticed that the lack of food had the effect on the body where fat deposits on the skin were reduced because the starving body needed to get energy. This process of breaking down the fat creates some foul smelling chemicals that leave our body during this process. So if you’re ever wondering why your Atkin’s diet fanatic or ‘no carbs’ friends smell a bit garlicy – that’s the closest thing I can compare it to – it’s due to this process your body goes through.
**Alio olio is a dish served with garlic, oil and salt. Extras can be olives, chilli (pepperoncino) and cheese.
***Spaghetti, Linguine, Bucatinne are all long thin pastas
****Fusilli and Spirali are spiral shape pastas