There are probably a million different types of pasta knocking around, human beings being as creative as they are. Oriental cuisine knows a good number of them (and indeed are credited with inventing pasta – or noodles – in the first place), but I’ll be dealing exclusively in Italian pasta. Pasta, or pastasciutta to give it its full title, literally means “dry dough”. Not very appetizing, I agree, but then neither is pasta on its own – and that’s where the sauces come in. So, while there may be around 20 popular commercial types of pasta available in the supermarkets (and many more if you count home-made past), there are literally countless ways of dressing the pasta (I say, put your knickers on there!), so the potential for this site is about 2,357,882 recipes. That should keep me occupied for the rest of my existence….
What is pasta?
Those of you who feel the need to do so can look up Pasta on Wikipedia where you’ll find a very detailed article with lots of information on the history, uses, production and even regulations regarding pasta (including a particularly nauseating list of US varieties – though I would call them deviants – of pasta). For everyone else, pasta is simply a mixture of durum wheat flour and water, formed into a dough, cut into whatever shapes pleases you and cooked, usually by boiling for anything between 2-12 minutes depending on the format and size. Fresh pasta – which you can often obtain outside Italy at specialist stores and even in some supermarkets – is, obviously, fresh and pliable and can be made with regular wheat, not durum. You may also find egg pasta, which uses eggs instead of water and, again, either durum or soft wheat.
How do I make it?
Fresh pasta is, I’m reliably informed, incredibly easy to make, though you need a large kitchen table to roll the dough with and a pasta machine to cut it for you, though a special hand-held pasta cutter will also do the trick. I have none of these things in my kitchen (mostly due to lack of space), but I will give you a friend’s recipe for this later.
In the meantime, you can quite happily continue to use the dry pastasciutta (that’s pronounced “pas-tah-SHOE-ta”), which most of the recipes here will call for anyway. I mean, why complicate your life even further?
What I don’t want to see you doing, is either using little jars of pre-prepared sauces or – horror of horrors – something that is all the rage here, at least, and that is nasty heat-and-eat bags of frozen pasta complete with dressing! Any of you caught doing that will be horsewhipped until the sun shines for one whole year in Ireland!
How do I cook it?
Each individual recipe will tell you what to do, but I’d just like to give you a couple of general tips here:
- Only put pasta into boiling salted water.
- Don’t forget your pasta after you’ve put it into the pot. Think of it as a small child* – incapable of looking after itself. It needs a stir every now and then to make sure it doesn’t stick together (which it has a nasty habit of doing).
- Make sure the water doesn’t go off the boil (it will immediately after you put in the pasta, but that’s ok). And you don’t need to keep it boiling like mad either, which only wastes energy – just keep it bubbling over.
- Don’t trust the time indicated on the packet: it is a guarantee for mushy, slimy pasta, the sort you eat in dodgy, touristy eateries round the corner from the main train station of most European capital cities. Not good. You get the idea. So, take it out 1 minute before the indicated time. For advanced users… instead of timing it, you need to taste it to know when it’s ready. You’ll get to know the point between still-hard pasta and too-soft pasta (technically known as the al dente point, meaning just ever the slightest bite in the pasta, but nothing actually hard), but that point disappears in the time it takes to shoo the cat out of your vegetable rack.
- And another thing, you don’t need to rinse drained pasta in cold water. You’ve just drained it for feck’s sake… what do you want to go wetting it for again? Rinsing pasta is useful for stopping the cooking process (pasta is like a frog, it continues to live even when it’s out of the water), but you only need to dash a bit of cold water through the colander.
- Finally, if you find you’ve cooked too much pasta, don’t chuck it in the bin – put it in the fridge covered with cling film and it will be perfectly good tomorrow or the day after. I’ll be including some “leftover” dishes along the way.
* Obviously, as my friend Steve pointed out, you wouldn’t have put a small child in a pot of boiling salted water in the first place…