Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cooking Pasta right for Natasha


My 4.5 year old daughter Natasha is very fussy about her food. She eats only certain foods and likes singular flavours. In the case of pasta she likes hers "normal with olive oil and no kachra (AKA herbs spices etc). So it is important to me to cook pasta right. This is how I cook pasta and then toss it with the best EVOO I have to hand. And she can go through several servings of it. But getting your past right makes all the difference to any Pasta dish you make. So today’s Foodle is dedicated to my adoarable angel who wants to grow up and be a Cookin like her mom! It also features Farfalle or Butterfly pasta on her request because that is her favourite shape followed by “faggettti”  (spaghetti) J.

Its important to use good quality imported Italian dried pastas. Italian dried pastas are preferable to any Indian Brand. Italian pasta is made from Durum wheat Semolina which is high in protein and gluten and holds shape on cooking whereas local pastas are usually just maida, with no nutritional benefit and fall apart on cooking. Besides while the inventors of pasta might be debatable the fact is that the Italians have been making it for eons so why reinvent the wheel? 

How much pasta to cook is often a dilemma. The major difference between pasta as it is served in Italy and pasta as it is served in India is that for an Italian pasta is generally a first course, to be followed by a second course of some kind, be it meat, fish, vegetable, or even pizza. In other words, it is a part of a meal. And portion size usually reflects this. So if I am cooking pasta for an Italian meal with Salad and other components to the meal. The general rule of thumb I follow is 1 handfull (70-80 g) of uncooked pasta per peson = 2 cups cooked pasta. Add sauce and vegetables/meats etc and you should end up with about 3 cups ready pasta. ( I usually add lots of vegetables). So a 500 g packet will feed 4-6 people easily and I might even have leftovers cooked pasta for the next day. 

Pasta should be cooked properly to get the best results. Ideally Pasta should be cooked just before you are ready to eat and mixed with its sauce. In Italy at the homes of friends I have seen that the pasta water is kept ready and pasta is cooked just before everyone sits down to dinner. So when the antipasti course finishes, the pasta is ready. Its the rule I generally follow. But if you have to cook it ahead of time then when ready to eat "refresh" pasta by immersing briefly in boiling water and then mix with the sauce.

1.      Cook in enough water so past has room to 'swim' and doesn't end up clumping together. If you don't use enough water the pasta will be gummy, so don't be cunjus!  Use 1 ltr water per 100 g  pasta, (5 l for a 500 g pkt) And PLEASE, PLEASE do not add oil to your boiling water. No Italian cook adds oil to pasta water because that will not allow cooked pasta to absorb sauce. 

2.      Did you know that Neapolitans who are experts at cooking pasta because it first became poplular there used to use sea water to cook their pasta traditionally. So when you boil water to cook pasta add enough salt to make it salty as seawater. (It is important to get this right because you cannot correct this later). This means you need to add 2-3 tsp sea salt per litre. Don’t shudder at the thought of too much salt. The pasta will only absorb as much salt as it needs.
3.      Once the water is boiling, add pasta slowly so it does not all land in the water at one time and bring down the temperature of the water. Stir well so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom. And keep an eye on it. The pasta package usually advises how long the pasta shape should cook for, but I start checking on it about 5 mins befor time to be safe.  

4.     Check on your pasta when its looking cooked (it should have become soft and doubled in size). A couple of minutes before it is supposed to be done, fish out a piece and break it open; in the center you will see a white uncooked portion that called anima. If this is very big, continue cooking the until the anima is barely visible. You can tell it's ready when it is "al dente", or tender to the bite but with a slight resistance.

     Drain pasta, giving it one or two good shakes to remove most of the water (it will continue to absorb water for a minute or two). Ladle a couple of ladles of the hot pasta water into a serving bowl, swirl it around to warm bowl and discard them, transfer cooked pasta to bowl, stir in olive oil or sauce and serve.