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How to Cook Pasta

Written by Alessandra Rovati on Wednesday, 26 October 2011. Posted in Tips And Tricks

The Perfect Pasta

Medieval Jewish Compendia already mention Maccheroni and Tortelli, proving that Pasta has long been a non-denominational passion uniting all Italians.
It can be fresh and made by hand for special occasions, or dried ('secca') and packaged. 
In Italy, special laws regulate how it's made and exclusively durum wheat flour can be used. But how do we make it 'al dente'? And what does it mean anyway? Literally, "al dente" means "to the bite". That's how we define pasta that's not too soft and not too hard, just perfect. Overcooked pasta is flavorless and mushy, and less digestible. At the same time, you don't want to leave it so raw that it will be hard or stick to the teeth. For the nutrition buffs among you, overcooked pasta has a high glycemic index, while when it's made "al dente", Italian-style, that index is quite low.


Here is a HOW-TO:

* Use about 2/3 cups of pasta per person.

* Fill a large and tall steel pot with very abundant water (at least 1 cup of water for every cup of pasta, or more) and salt. I add salt with my hand, but if you are not used to this you can try half a teaspoon per person of coarse salt.

* When the water is boiling aggressively, add the pasta and stir immediately several times. Never add pasta before this point or it won't cook properly! Keep stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking.

* Packages of pasta usually say how many minutes it must be cooked for. However, this varies slightly depending on a variety of factors, including whether the water is hard or soft, and how long the pasta has been sitting in its package. So, I start checking the pasta at least one minute BEFORE that time. With a fork, pull out one piece of pasta and taste it. (you may want to keep a dipping bowl of cold water next to the pot to avoid burning your tongue).

* Taste every 20 seconds maximum. It only takes 30 seconds for the pasta to go from undercooked to overcooked!

* When you taste it and it's just PERFECT, quickly remove the pot from the stove, and drain the pasta through a colander.

* But save a few tablespoons of the cooking water! The starches released by the pasta turn the cooking water into both an emulsifier and a thickening agent. Mix a little bit into your sauce and it will coat the pasta more evenly. 

* The right cooking time can be anything from 2 minutes less than the box says, up to 3 minutes more.

* Add sauce and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese when appropriate, and enjoy!!!!


Tips when making pasta for Shabbat (to prevent it from becoming mushy, dry or sticky during  reheating):

* Only use pasta shapes that are thicker and require longer cooking time (check the box instruction and find one that says at least 13 minutes). Two great choices would be rigatoni and mezzi rigatoni. 

* Use a high quality Italian pasta.

* Cook the pasta for one minute less than you normally would, leaving it a little more 'al dente'. When you'll reheat  the pasta it will cause it to get a little mushier.

* Use an oilier sauce than you normally would because watery sauces tend to get absorbed during reheating.

* Do a test try of the type of pasta before Shabbat to see exactly how long it takes for it to warm up on your plata or your warming drawer. That way, on or before Shabbat, you will reheat it only for the time necessary, and it won't get all mushy.

Looking for some pasta recipes? Our members have posted some great ones for you to try. 

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About the Author

Alessandra Rovati

Alessandra Rovati was born and raised in Venice, Italy, and lives in New York City with her husband and children. She teaches kosher Italian cooking and posts free recipes, how-to’s and some history on her blog, Dinner in Venice
Alessandra’s articles and recipes have been published in several magazines and websites including the Jewish Voice, Joy of Kosher, and Kosher Inspired. Her Jewish Italian Cooking lesson has appeared on the Jewish Week’s website, and she has been a featured guest on Fox News, Hadassah magazine and the Kosher Scene.

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