Did you know that there’s a right way to cook pasta? I’m not sure if the way you, perhaps, do it, or the way I’ve been making it for years is necessarily wrong, but there is definitely a right way. A specific chain of events that can lead to the perfect bowl of pasta. Some of this may be redundant or, not surprisingly, a duh moment for you. For others? It may very well be a revelation. Or at least noteworthy.
I love pasta. It’s beautiful, versatile and cheap. I am embarrassed to say that for a few years, way back when, I didn’t eat pasta. Not at all. Why? Stupid, mostly. I think it’s called the Paleo diet now, however.
The tools needed for this perfect bowl of pasta are few. A large pot that leaves enough room for the pasta to move freely in as it boils. Fresh water. Sea salt. A colander. Oh, and whatever pan your cooking your sauce in. Keep a ladle near by as well.
It goes like this: Bring salted water, about two teaspoons of salt per quart, to a rolling boil. Add pasta. For the love of God do not break it. Cook pasta until just before it’s al dente. Al dente meaning “to the tooth”-just barely under cooked. In the meantime, by the way, you’ve got another large pan with your sauce cooking. Right before al dente, ladle out one to two ladlefulls, of your starchy pasta water and pour into your simmering sauce. This will thicken your sauce and give it body. Drain your pasta into your colander, and toss pasta in with your sauce. There it will cook to it’s final moment of al dente. If you’re not using a sauce, like my recipe below, you still want to drain your pasta at the moment before al dente as it will continue to cook whilst in the colander. And perhaps even a bit on your plate.
That’s it! Simple, no? Believe it or not, it does take a bit of practice and I am, by no means, an expert. Specifically, understanding, read: tasting, your pasta to see how close it is to al dente is important. Keep in mind, whole grain pastas may take more time to cook longer. Fresh pasta, only moments. Sauces, well, that’s a whole other ball game. And probably a whole other post. I will say this. Think regionally when considering sauce for specific pasta. A pasta from Liguria? Ligurian style sauce. The sauce is, generally speaking, built around the style and shape of pasta so the pasta can carry the sauce efficiently, and dare I say, beautifully.
Now if you’re looking for inspiration I highly recommend the quirky and visually exciting book: The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand & Jacob Kenedy. If you have a pasta machine (which I sadly don’t), this book offers you the added bonus of A-Z recipes and instruction for more than a hundred fresh pastas and the sauces that go with them. Cool, eh? In the meantime, check out their groovy animated website.
PS If any of you lovely readers are pasta experts, do correct me if I’ve gotten something wrong. Also, any tips or advice are freely welcomed!
Trofie Pasta with Arugula and Walnut Pesto
Trofie is a Genovese pasta that is twisted into little spirals. Perfect for a pesto.
Linguine, if you happen to have some on hand, is a reasonable substitute.
If you’re not a fan of arugula’s bitterness, as I am not, the trick is to soak it in a bowl of ice
water and let sit in the fridge for about and hour. Run it through a salad spinner after you’ve drained it.
Takes out the bitterness and gives you a crisp firm leaf.
1/3 pound dried Trofie pasta
4 oz fresh arugula
2 garlic cloves, smashed in a mortar with a bit of sea salt
1-2 cups freshly grated pecorino romano
1 cup walnuts
2/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1-2 oz, about 2 slices, thinly sliced and finely chopped prosciutto
Cook pasta to the instructions listed above.
Place your arugula, crushed garlic and cheese in your food processor and work to a fine paste.
Add the walnuts and process until smooth.
Add the olive oil, butter salt and pepper to taste.
Let the pesto sit for a minute or two and then taste to adjust.
Serve over pasta peppered with prosciutto and with a lovely, slightly chilled Lambrusco. My new favorite wine, by the way.