Cooking pasta

Cooking pasta is as easy as boiling water, but cooking pasta correctly is about paying attention to detail.

Fill a large stockpot with water. The more the better – pasta only sticks when cooked in too little water. Add salt. Salt makes pasta taste better, and won’t increase the sodium level of your recipes. Use 1 teaspoon per gallon of water. At that level, 2 ounces of uncooked pasta (1 cup cooked), the FDA serving size, absorbs about 20 mg of sodium, which is about 1% of the recommended daily sodium intake.

Measure the pasta you need. Pasta generally doubles in size when cooked, so 1 cup uncooked = 2 cups cooked. Refer to the recipe, if necessary.

Bring the water to a rolling boil. This means a boil you can’t stop by stirring. Slowly add the pasta to the boiling water. Ideally, the water shouldn’t stop boiling, but if that happens, it’s ok. Continue to stir. Pasta will stick together if it isn’t stirred during the crucial first moments of cooking. Don’t add oil, because that will make the pasta slippery and the sauce won’t stick to it when it’s done.

You can regulate the heat so the pasta/water mixture doesn’t foam up and over the pot sides. Lower it the tiniest bit and you shouldn’t have a problem. Start timing when the water returns to a boil. Most pastas cook in 8-12 minutes. Check the package directions! The only way to tell if the pasta is correctly cooked is to taste it. It should be al dente – firm, yet tender, with a tiny core in the middle. You can also cut into a piece you’ve fished out of the pot. There shouldn’t be any solid white in the center of the pasta – just a shading to a more opaque cream color.

Drain the pasta into a colander placed into your kitchen sink. Lift the colander and shake off excess water. Don’t rinse. That removes the starch that helps hold the sauce. Toss the pasta into a simmering sauce and mix it. That’s all there is to it!

Tips:

  • By covering the pot when you bring water to a boil, you are lowering the air pressure directly over the water, making it easier to boil.
  • Never mix pasta types in one pot. They all have different cooking times.
  • Watch the cooking process carefully. Pasta can overcook very quickly.
  • If the pasta is to be used in a casserole, undercook it slightly. It will finish cooking while in the oven.

pasta and sausage

Pasta with Sausage and Mustard Sauce

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound penne or medium shells
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 spicy hot Italian sausages, meat removed from casings and crumbled (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup half & half
  • 3 tablespoons grainy mustard
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup thinly sliced basil

Directions

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the sausage meat and brown over moderately high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the half & half, mustard and crushed red pepper and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, add the pasta and basil and toss to coat.

Spaghettini with Mushrooms, Garlic, and Oil 

Spaghettini with Mushrooms and Garlic

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes 
  • 2/3 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound spaghettini (thin spaghetti)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and the red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic softens, about 1 minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and the salt and cook until the mushrooms exude liquid, the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the spaghettini until just done, about 9 minutes. Reserve a ½ cup of pasta cooking water. Drain and toss with the mushroom mixture, the reserved pasta cooking water, the parsley and the black pepper. Mix well and serve.

Cavatelli with Sardinian Meat Sauce

Cavatelli with Meat Sauce

Servings: 4

Frozen cavatelli are better than dried. Since this shape is thick and doughy, the dried version tends to get overcooked on the outside before it’s done inside. If you can’t find cavatelli in the freezer section of your grocery store, a chunky dried pasta such as rigatoni will also be excellent here. Use the same quantity.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large pinches crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound frozen cavatelli
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, plus more for serving

Directions

In a large deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the meat and cook, breaking up it with a fork, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, parsley, water, salt and red pepper. Simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cavatelli until just done, 10 to 12 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the cavatelli and toss with the meat sauce, the basil, the reserved pasta water and the cheese. Serve with additional Pecorino Romano.

Penne with Shrimp and Spicy Tomato Sauce

Penne with Spicy Shrimp in Tomato Sauce

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (seafood seasoning)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 3/4 pound penne rigate
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

Directions

In a large glass bowl, whisk together the olive oil and the lemon juice with the paprika, seafood seasoning, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and the parsley. Set aside at room temperature.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the penne rigate until almost done, about 12 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook about 1 minute longer. Drain. Toss with the tomato sauce.

Some Variations for this dish:

• Penne with Mozzarella and Spicy Tomato Sauce: Use 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, in place of the shrimp. Toss the cheese in at the end.
• Penne with Grilled Vegetables and Spicy Tomato Sauce: In place of the shrimp, use grilled or sautéed vegetables such as mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant or green beans, cut into bite-size pieces. Toss the vegetables into the pasta with the sauce.

Greek Ziti

Chicken Ziti

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound in all), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound ziti
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

Directions

In a large saucepan, simmer the chicken broth and the oregano until 1/2 cup of the liquid remains in the pan, about 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken cubes, cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Let the chicken steam in the hot broth until just done, about 10 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the ziti until just done, about 12-13 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss it with the chicken mixture, the feta, lemon juice, salt, pepper and parsley. Stir until the cheese is completely melted. Toss in the cherry tomatoes and mix well before serving.

 

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