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Vegetarian Journal Mar/Apr 2001


Pasta Perfect

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

Comforting, nourishing dinners don't have to take a lot of time and they don't have to be frustrating to make. Pasta fits the bill when it comes to food that is filling, tasty, economical, and fast. If you get yourself coordinated, you can go from pot to table in about 15 minutes (depending on how long it takes to get the water to boil!).

Here are some hot pasta tips:

Water, water all around: don't scrimp on the water. Ever wonder why you get a big, soggy lump of pasta, rather than nice, separate pieces? If pasta doesn't get to move around while it's cooking, it sits and mopes (and sticks together). A good rule of thumb is about 5 quarts of water for one pound of pasta.

The pot counts, too! You should put 5 quarts of water in a 7 or 8 quart pot! If you fill a pot to the brim with water, well, see tip #1!

There is no truth to the rumor that you need to add oil to cooking pasta. If you add enough water and stir occasionally, your pasta won't stick! This is good news for the calories and for your budget. Take the money you save on pasta oil and buy yourself a nice new pasta strainer.

Speaking of saving money (and time), cover the pot when you're pasta-cooking. This will speed the cooking time and save on energy costs. Be sure to bring the water to a rolling boil, add pasta, allow to come to a second boil, and then reduce heat and allow to simmer until desired texture is achieved.

There will be a quiz. Test dried pasta after about 5 minutes and fresh pasta after about 3 minutes. How can you tell if it's done? Let your taster be your guide! If you like the texture, then it's done! Remember to err on the chewy side, as your pasta will continue to cook for about a minute more as you go through the draining process. Fresh pasta cooks up the fastest, semolina flour pasta (the usual supermarket variety) takes a little longer, and whole wheat and vegetable pastas (containing spinach or carrots or tomatoes, etc.) take the longest. None of them takes more than ten minutes to cook.

Love that liquid. When straining, reserve some of the cooking water. There's starch in that water, which makes it perfect for using in sauces and soups to thicken them up. Conversely, you can save some of the water used in cooking beans to cook the pasta in. The kitchen was history's first area of conservation!

Frequent bathing not encouraged. It is not necessary to rinse pasta, contrary to popular belief. If you've cooked pasta in enough water, and gently pour it into the strainer, it will not stick. The starch on the outside of the pasta will help the sauce to stay on! For extra insurance, have warm sauce standing by to toss onto the pasta as soon as it's drained. There is an exception: don't rinse pasta if you are serving it hot. If you are using it for a cold salad, do rinse it, as the longer pasta sits, the stickier it will get.

Add the sauce immediately. Hot pasta is the best companion for warm sauce; you'll get the best texture and the best coating if you combine hot pasta with warm sauce.

A Word About Fresh and Dried Pasta

Fresh pasta, found in the refrigerated section of the market, really needs only to be heated. It was never dried, so it doesn't need to be reconstituted. When the water has boiled, add fresh pasta, bring to a second boil and prepare to check pretty soon. Dried pasta needs to be reconstituted, so let it cook for awhile after the second boil.

Fast Pasta Ideas

Expand Your Pasta Knowledge

Mastered the usual noodles and ready for more? Visit an Asian market or the Asian section of your supermarket and scope out the soba and the udon. These Japanese noodles are chewy and slurpy and wonderful to base a meal around. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour and udon from wheat flour and water. Both can be served hot or cold. Cook them up just like spaghetti. They are a bit chewier, so you decide if you want to cook them a little longer. Hot or cold, they can be tossed with soy sauce, dried or fresh ginger, chopped garlic (buy it already chopped at the store), and sesame seeds. Or heat some vegetable broth, add some fresh or canned mushrooms, and make your own noodle bowl.

Looking for something a little more delicate? Pur-chase bean threads (also called cellophane noodles, for their translucent appearance), which are made from mung bean flour. They can be softened by soaking briefly in warm water (you'll have to check the time, as different brands reconstitute differently; shouldn't take more than five minutes) and then fried quickly in oil or boiled in hot broth. Rice sticks are a little starchier than bean threads and varieties range from very, very thin to thick. Soften them in warm water and then drop them in soups and broths. Use your noodleŚconsider the pastabilities!

Excerpts from the Mar/Apr 2001 Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

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January 16, 2001

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