Somehow one never tires of pasta. So many possibilities!  There are as many pasta dishes as there are cooks. Spicy, subtle, herb-laced, or creamy sauced pastas that, also, vary from city to city, region to region and country to country. The pasta shapes also change: from long pastas, stout pastas, tubular pastas, pastas with pronounced ridges, others with nooks and crannies to fresh lasagna, homemade cannelloni, and ravioli.

When buying either fresh or dried pasta, look for a well made brand that uses the best ingredients, such as, semolina flour for dried pasta. The pasta should have a rough surface and not be too smooth, as smooth pasta will not hold onto the sauce. The noodles should be compact and heavy for their size in order to stay together when cooking. Remember to stay away from very inexpensive pasta, you will just be disappointed come dinnertime. The extra pennies for good pasta are worth it.

For fresh pasta look for the expiration date on the package and take a good look at the pasta. If the pasta feels heavy in the package and has good color and texture it is worth buying. Many Italian bakeries and and some higher end supermarkets also make fresh pasta. However, most importantly, remember not to overcook your pasta, the worlds greatest sauce or pasta cannot save mushy pasta.

Some Tips

Do Not Rinse:  One of the cardinal rules of pasta cooking is to never rinse cooked pasta once you’ve drained it. Why? Because rinsing pasta would strip it of some of its starchy outer coat, which in turn, would lessen its ability to cling to sauce. The starch on the pasta is essential for the proper binding of sauce to pasta. If your recipe says to rinse pasta after draining, skip this step.

To cool drained pasta for use in cold dishes, toss it with a touch of olive oil and spread it out on a large tray until it reaches room temperature–about 15 minutes.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when cooking pasta:

Start with a big pot.

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil for every 3 oz. of pasta you intend to cook. The water should be at a full boil when you add the pasta.

Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water when the water comes to a boil (if you add it earlier, the water will take longer to boil).

Don’t add oil! The pasta won’t stick together unless you don’t stir it often enough as it cooks. (Adding oil to the water will create a slippery surface on the pasta and the sauce will not adhere very well)

Add the pasta all at once, stir with a long-handled spoon and keep stirring until it becomes supple and is entirely submerged in the water.

Keep the water boiling the whole time as the pasta cooks. (If the pasta water is not boiling, the outside of the pasta will be overcooked by the time the inside is al dente.)

To prevent sticking stir the pasta every minute or so.

As it gets close to the amount of time the package says the pasta should cook, check the the pasta by tasting a small piece and drain it when it’s al dente.  It should offer a little bite when tasted-there should still be a thin white dot at the center.

Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta. Use as much of this reserved water as needed to thin out your sauce (this allows you to cut down on olive oil or butter). Also, because the pasta cooking water is rich in starch, it helps the sauce bind to the pasta and the heat in the reserved pasta cooking water will help your pasta stay hot longer.

Add a little sauce to the pasta cooking pot over very low heat. Return the drained pasta to the pot and while stirring add more sauce and some of the pasta cooking water. Cook for about a minute. Serve in warm pasta bowls with cheese or herbs for garnish.

Some Of My Family’s Favorite Pastas

Well, the number one, hands down, overall favorite is Linguine with Basil Pesto. However this recipe won’t be included here. For that recipe come back to this blog on Wednesday for the next installment on the Cuisine of Italy.

Orecchiette With Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

 

6 servings

Ingredients:Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 pound lean Italian sausage, a combination of hot and sweet according to your taste, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound orecchiette
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe
  • 1 cup pasta water
  • Freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Wash broccoli rabe in several changes of cold water. Cut off the bottom tips on the stalks and cut each stalk into one inch lengths.

Heat oil and stir in garlic in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausages and saute until meat is brown. 

Boil a large pot of water, add salt and pasta. Add the broccoli rabe during the last two minutes of the pasta cooking time. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water.

Add the pasta water  to the cooked sausage and raise heat and cook until sauce is hot.

Drain orecchiette. Return the drained pasta to the sausage sauce in the skillet.

Using a wooden spoon, toss together for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Linguine with Clams

 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, 2 smashed and peeled, and 2 thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 dozen littleneck clams
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal or flour
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 pound linguine pasta
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

 Directions:

1 hour in advance of cooking, combine the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature. Rinse the clams and place them in a large bowl with cold water and the cornmeal or flour. The live clams open to ingest the cornmeal, thereby releasing any remaining sand. Let soak 10 minutes. Scrub each clam clean under cold running water to remove remaining softened dirt from the shells and return to soak in fresh cold water. If necessary, repeat the scrubbing process a couple of times until the clams are completely clean and the soaking water is free of sand. Drain and chill until ready to cook.

In a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring the wine to a boil. Add the cleaned clams, cover immediately, and steam until the clams are open, 3 to 5 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open. Using tongs, remove the shellfish from the pan to a bowl. Reserve the cooking liquid in the pan.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the linguine, and cook until tender but still firm. Set the timer for 2 minutes less than the package instructions specify. Drain the pasta and return the empty pasta pot to the stove. Add the seasoned oil and shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the clam cooking liquid. Add the drained pasta to the pan and heat for a minute. Toss well and pour into a large pasta serving bowl, add clams and sprinkle the parsley over the top.

Rigatoni with Marinara Sauce and Ricotta

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 (28-oz) container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red-pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, torn into bits
  • 1 lb rigatoni pasta
  • 1 cup skim milk ricotta cheese, warmed in the microwave
  • Grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Cook garlic and red-pepper flakes in the olive oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring for a minute. Add tomatoes and salt and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in basil.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of well salted boiling water, uncovered, until al dente, then drain in a colander.

Return pasta to the pot and add marinara sauce. Cook for a minute. Pour pasta into a large serving bowl, dollop with tablespoons of the warmed ricotta with and serve with the grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Note: Sauce can be made ahead.  Cool completely, cover and refrigerate up to 5 days or freeze in an airtight container for 2 months.

Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken Cacciatore with Rice Recipe

The chicken can be cooked the day before or early in the day of serving. Reheat while the pasta cooks.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (3-1/2-lb.) chicken, cut into eighths
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1-1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1/2 lb.mushrooms, halved and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (2 cups)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 (28-oz.) container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or plate. Season with 2 teaspoons of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish. Dip the chicken in the flour, making sure to coat it on all sides, then return it to the baking sheet.

Place a large (12- to 14-inch), straight-sided sauté pan (one that can hold all the chicken pieces in one layer) or a Dutch oven over high heat and add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the chicken, skin side down in a single layer and sauté over high heat without moving it for about 4 minutes, or until browned on the first side. (If the pieces stick, that means they haven’t browned long enough. Let them cook a bit longer.) Turn the chicken over and repeat, lowering the heat to medium-low. Transfer the browned chicken to a clean baking sheet, trying to leave as much oil as possible in the pan.

Let the pan heat up for a minute over high heat. Add the vegetables and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, reduce the heat to medium and sauté until the vegetables are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the wine and the tomatoes and heat until simmering.  Add the chicken to the pan and cover the pan tightly with foil or a lid.  Place in the oven and cook or about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is very tender.

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. Serve the chicken over the cooked pasta.

Fusilli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach

Picture of Fusilli with Spinach and Asiago Cheese Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pint container of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion or 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat fusilli pasta
  • 1 (9-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange tomatoes on a large parchment-lined sheet tray, cut-sides up. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Scatter 2 tablespoons Parmesan and 2 tablespoons basil evenly over top. Roast until bubbling, about 20 minutes; set aside.

In a skillet heat remaining olive oil and saute garlic, red pepper flakes and onion for 4 minutes. Add spinach and cook on low just until wilted. Remove from heat and stir in roasted tomatoes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and fusilli and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Add spinach tomato mixture, lemon juice, remaining 6 tablespoons Parmesan and remaining basil. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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