Monday, September 29, 2008

Hack of All Trades #2 - Pasta Pergatory

Dear Umami Mama,

I was cooking pasta the other night and had a terrible time.  First when I put the pasta into the pan, it wouldn't fit, so I broke it in half and then when the water started boiling, the pasta was all clumped up and i couldn't stir it, so then I added extra virgin olive oil to try and break it up, but then it just became gummy.  What did I do wrong?


Confused in Camarillo

Dear Confused in Camarillo,

YOU STUPID HACK!  Unfortunately, it sounds like you did everything wrong.  Whenever you are cooking pasta, you need to have a big enough pot to accommodate the pasta and already BOILING salted water.  When you add food to boiling water, the temperature of the water is immediately lowered because the heat is transferred into the food.  If you add too much food and there is not enough water, the water will stop boiling.  This will also cause the pasta to taste starchy and clump up.  If you are cooking a standard package of pasta (16 oz) then you should use at least 5 quarts of boiling salted water.  When the water is boiling, put the pasta in the pot, and as it softens gently ease it down.  You'll also want to stir the pasta so that none of it clumps together.  You'll want to cook it al dente, and the best way to test this is to take it out and taste it.  It should have some bite, but not be underdone.  Once it's al dente, drain immediately, and add to your pasta sauce (that should be hot and ready to go in another pan that is big enough to also hold the pasta).  From here you can have the pasta and sauce combine, give a final seasoning, and finish off with some good extra virgin olive oil and cheese. Remember, when adding cheese to pasta, you should take it off the heat, otherwise the fat will separate and you'll end up with oily instead of creamy.  

Also, since you are using the correct amount of boiling water and pot, there should be no need to break the pasta in half.  You might as well just overcook the pasta so that when you are trying to twirl it on your fork, it breaks up into those little pasta pieces, and then you'll realize that you should have just cooked some rice and added pasta sauce.  Also, never add olive oil to your cooking water.  The very best pasta you can buy will have a rough texture.  This will ensure that when it is tossed in a sauce, that the sauce will cling to the pasta.  If you add olive oil, the sauce will not cling.  However, if you are making pasta that will be used at a later point, drain it and put it on a cookie sheet, then drizzle with some olive oil so that the pasta cools evenly and doesn't stick together.  

If none of this works for you, chef boyardee may be your best bet as hamburger helper may be too advanced for you.  May the Pasta Gods have mercy on your pasta-less soul.


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