Broadening Your Pasta Horizons
People eat a lot of pasta. No wonder since it's fast, easy, and ingredients are almost always in the pantry. But for some, pasta dinners never get beyond spaghetti and bottled tomato sauce one time and bottled tomato sauce and spaghetti the next. Could be you need to get out of the rut and upgrade your choices and thinking on the subject.
Spaghetti is just a shape that belongs to the huge pasta family. There are countless other shapes: penne, fusilli, macaroni, rigatoni, and farfalle, to name a few. When thinking about the world of pasta, you open doors to multiple experiences. Italian sauce made from tomatoes, onions and peppers is good, but it's only one ordinary way to go.
You can endlessly pick from the whole food chain and from the cuisines of dozens of countries. Instead of tomato and ground beef sauces, add shrimp, tuna, sausage, nuts, and/or herbs to pasta. Think about using ingredients that are often around like lots of olive oil, butter, and grated cheese. And always season with generous amounts of salt and pepper. If you ate a different pasta for dinner every night of your life, you might never repeat a recipe.
As a refresher, keep in mind a few things about cooking pasta:
• Start with a good brand of imported dried pasta. It's so inexpensive, why get the cheap stuff?
• Refrigerated pastas are also good because they are fresh and they cook faster. They also add more variety to the mix
• Make sure you use lots of water. Three quarts for a half-pound of pasta is the right amount. Cover the pot while it's heating so the water boils quickly.
• To prevent pasta from sticking together, stir often during cooking. You don't need to add oil, but you can if you want to.
• Always dip out a half-cup of cooking water before draining the pasta, just in case. If a sauce is too thick, use the water to thin it. If it's too thin, add some pasta water and then cook longer. The starch will thicken the sauce.
• Never rinse pasta. The starch that clings to it is important for the taste and texture of the finished dish.
• If you are adding pasta to a sauce, allow it to rest in the sauce for a minute or so before serving to absorb some of the flavor.
• To estimate the amount of spaghetti to use for one serving, measure an amount you can enclose in the circle made by your thumb and forefinger.
• And always make a little too much for one meal. There's nothing better than lunch or a second supper made from leftover pasta tossed into hot olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and left to sizzle and form a crust.
Here are some quickie sauce ideas to try:
Fusilli with Sweet Corn
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a few ears of fresh sweet corn and simmer about eight minutes or until done. Remove ears, let cool, cut off the kernels with a sharp knife, and set aside. To the water, add short or curly pasta such as fusilli and cook according to directions. Drain the pasta. Toss the corn kernels with pasta, lots of butter, salt and pepper and some chopped chives or parsley.
Penne with Asparagus
In a pan, simmer several a pound of asparagus for four or five minutes or until just tender. Remove and cut into lengths about an inch long. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add penne pasta and cook according to directions. Drain the pasta. Add some olive oil or butter to the pasta and add the chopped asparagus. Generously season with salt and pepper. Add hot pepper flakes and a few chopped anchovies if you like a peppier flavor.
Spaghetti with Bacon and Egg
Officially, this is called spaghetti alla carbonara. In a large pot of simmering water, start cooking the spaghetti. While it cooks, fry eight slices of bacon until crisp. Drain off the excess fat, but crumble the bacon and return it to the cooking pan. In a small bowl, combine four egg yolks with a half-cup of good parmesan cheese, and a little salt and freshly-ground pepper.
When the spaghetti is done, drain it well and add it to the bacon in the skillet, tossing it to coat with fat. If there isn't enough fat, add a little olive oil. Pour the beaten, seasoned egg yolk over all and toss to coat. The heat of the pasta will cook the egg. The dish should be well-seasoned. For more color, add a little chopped parsley.