Skip to content
Home » Pasta

Pasta

Nothing beats a bowl of noodly goodness.  Pasta is high in fiber and low in fat; it packs a ton of carbohydrates, but also some protein that helps us to digest the carbs more slowly over time (rather than one big blood-sugar boost).  It has a generally neutral flavor, which makes it an excellent match for a variety of other foods.

Most pasta is made from one specific kind of high-protein wheat flour, known as “durum” or “semolina”. All that protein allows it to generate gluten that holds noodles together when they are boiled. Like regular wheat flour, durum flour can be highly refined or “whole wheat”: whole wheat is more nutritious, chewier, and more flavorful; it also tends to take longer to cook (so be careful substituting whole wheat noodles for regular noodles in a recipe).

Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes: from long, thin strings, to flat strips, tubes, chunks, and even “wagon wheels.” Pasta is also used as containers (ravioli, dumplings) and layers (lasagna).

Most store-bought pasta is “dry”: after forming and shaping the dough, it’s carefully dried out, which extends its shelf-life almost indefinitely. You can also buy fresh pasta in stores, which will tend to be softer and more delicate and ideally should be used within a few days of purchasing it. 

Elbow macaroni

You can also make fresh pasta at home: it’s fun and pretty easy, but it does require a bit of time and effort (it’s also easiest to do with more than two hands, so it’s a great stay-at-home date-night idea). Homemade fresh pasta can be rolled out with a rolling pin, but it much easier with a pasta roller that can easily be bought online or in a kitchen store or department (even better: get the pasta roller attachment for your stand mixer – no hand cranking!).

Most of the time you will cook pasta by boiling it, though some recipes call for baking it. It’s important to use plenty of water: the general rule is you should use ten times the weight of the pasta, or five quarts of water for every pound of pasta. If you don’t use enough water then the pasta won’t cook thoroughly or evenly and it’s likely to form sticky clumps as it cooks. Pasta should be cooked on high boil. Generally you will add some salt to the water, which will enhance the flavor of the pasta and reduce some of the stickiness while it’s cooking. 

How long to cook the pasta for is a matter of preference. The traditional Italian approach is to cook it “al dente,” which means “to the tooth”: just a little chewy (i.e. fully cooked on the outside, and just slightly undercooked inside). Overcooked pasta will be mushy and fall apart at the slightest provocation; pasta should hold together and have some texture.

Pasta is almost always served with some kind of sauce. It could be as simple as a bit of butter or extra-virgin olive oil. But there is a wide variety of kinds of pasta sauces, including: meat, vegetable, tomato, cream, cheese, lemon, wine, squash, and mushroom.  Noodles are also sometimes featured in Italian soups, such as minestrone or pasta e fagioli. It’s good to pick a shape and size of pasta that complements the sauce you’re making and the other ingredients it will be served with, as well as the utensil you expect people to eat it with. Thin pasta is often better with thinner sauces; pasta with big flat surfaces or interesting shapes are great for thicker, clingy sauces that can coat it.

Pasta is a great opportunity for you to explore the wide range of reduction sauces. You can incorporate almost anything into a pasta sauce. If you want, you can also slightly undercook your pasta when boiling it, then throw it in the pan with the sauce and finish cooking it there; if the pasta still wants to absorb more water, then it will also absorb some of the flavors from the sauce.

Tips:

  • Don’t rinse pasta after cooking it, unless you intend to serve it cold. It doesn’t stop it from cooking (taking it out of the boiling water already did that), it doesn’t halt carryover cooking, and if you used enough water to boil it, it won’t reduce sticking. If you are worried about the pasta sticking together, then toss it with a dash of olive oil, or mix it in with the pasta sauce.
  • That leftover water after you’ve cooked your pasta is full of awesome starches that are great for thickening your sauce.
  • As mentioned earlier, it’s good to add some salt to the pot of water when boiling pasta. The ideal time to add the salt is after you’ve added the pasta to the pot and the water has come back to a boil. If you add salt to a pot of water that isn’t boiling, the salt can settle at the bottom and create pits in the surface of the pot.
  • Asian wheat noodles are very similar to Italian pasta, and sometimes are interchangeable in a pinch. Keep in mind, though, that Asian cuisines use noodles that are made of several other kinds of flour, including rice; these have very different protein levels and will cook very differently than durum pasta.
  • There is no hard-and-fast rule for how long to cook pasta; you will need to approximate the time (the recommendations on a package of dry pasta are an excellent starting point), and then check it near the end, possibly several times until you’re happy with it. Remember that fresh pasta cooks much faster than dry pasta (since it doesn’t have to re-absorb all that water), and thin pasta cooks faster than thick pasta. But don’t throw it against the wall to test it for doneness; all that tells you is whether it’s sticky.

Recipes:

To add:

  • links to recipes
  • photos of pasta rollers
  • photos of different kinds of pasta