Fresh pasta or dried pasta, which is best? The
pros and cons of each have inspired plenty of culinary controversy.
The key to making a decision between the two is in matching pasta
to sauce. Most aficionados agree that dried pasta is denser and
chewier in texture than the fresh variety, making it the perfect
choice for thicker, meat and vegetable-laden sauces. The softer
texture of fresh pasta pairs well with simple uncooked fresh
tomato sauces, delicate cream sauces and herb-flavored oils.
Fresh or dried, pasta should be cooked al dente (Italian for
"firm to the tooth").
Dried pasta generally comes with
suggested cooking times on the package. If you are using a timer,
set it for the minimum cooking time suggested and ALWAYS do a
"chew-test" a few times during the cooking process
to test for doneness. Once the pasta has reached the "al
dente stage" remove the cooking pot immediately from the
heat source and drain immediately.
Fresh pasta takes considerably
less time to cook than dried. It is best to test it frequently---and
not get too far from the pot while it's cooking.
Tips for Cooking
Whether it's dried or fresh pasta
you're cooking, you'll need lots of salted water to cook it in,
about 5 quarts for each pound of pasta, along with a very large
Always bring the water to a rapid boil
before adding the pasta. To help the water to come to a boil
more quickly, cover the pot with a lid.
Some cooks add a tablespoon or
two of vegetable oil to the cooking water because it is said
to not only keep the pasta from sticking together but helps to
avoid boil-overs. I do know that a wooden spoon laid across the
top of the pot can help prevent boil-overs...from personal experience.
Be sure to stir the pasta immediately
after adding it to the water and several times during cooking
to keep it from sticking together and forming a clumpy mass.
Stirring often also assures even cooking.
Always drain pasta thoroughly,
otherwise your favorite sauce may become diluted by the excess
cooking water. On the other hand, it's wise to reserve a cup
or two of the cooking water just in case your sauced-and-tossed
pasta appears to dry or thick. A little hot cooking water can
help remedy the problem.
Rinse pasta only if it is to
be used cold such as in a salad. Quality pasta made of 100 percent
durum wheat does not need to be rinsed before use. Rinsing only
serves to cool the pasta, which as Martha might say, is not
a good thing.
Don't fuss about cooking just the right amount
of pasta. Go ahead and cook the whole package, any unused portion
of cooked pasta can be used for lunch or dinner later in the
week. Leftover pasta can be used in soups, salads and casseroles.
Adding it to a stir-fry will make it a lo mein dish. For a twist
on pizza, heat oil in a frying pan and fry the cooked pasta into
a crisp, flattened disk to use as a pizza crust and then layer
with your favorite toppings.
How the pasta is sauced is more
a personal preference thing than a requirement. Whether you toss
the pasta with the sauce first and then serve it or ladle the
sauce atop a plate full of naked noodles, it's up to you. Serve
it the way you like--not how someone else says you should.
A Few Delicious