Note: I wrote this post with a lot of input from my dear friend Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal (twitter:@RushinaMG). Rushina owns the uber cool A Perfect Bite Cook Studio in Mumbai and is an author as well. Rushina has written a post on cooking pasta on her blog which you can read here.
The world of food today is fast moving and innovation is the name of the game and traditional dishes being given a contemporary look and feel hardly evokes a surprise. In this scenario, Italian is one cuisine that hasn’t lost its old world charm. Minimal ingredients, oodles of love, a huge dash of EVOO and you’re done!! But, it is in this simplicity that the actual beauty of Italian food lies. Someone rightly said, “When you cook Italian food well, it sings”. I thought of doing an entire post dedicated to Italian cooking, but I thought it would be nice to do a post on something that is Italy’s best culinary gift to the world. Pasta. Pasta. Along with Pesto and Pizza, Pasta forms the holy trinity of Italian cuisine. But it is extremely important to cook pasta perfectly else, you could end up with a mess. So lets begin 🙂
1. There are so many variants of Pasta available. Which one should I buy?
I always prefer buying the Italian brands that are made from durum wheat flour or Durum wheat semolina. Durum is a extremely hard variety of wheat that retains shape on cooking. Since this is wheat, it also has more nutritional value. These are a bit more expensive than the local brands but are worth every penny. And for heavens sake, don’t buy those multi coloured pastas.
2. So then, How do I cook pasta perfectly?
The best thing to do is cook pasta just before you’re ready to eat. So, plan your meal accordingly and get all the mise-en- place done. I usually begin by heating the water to cook the pasta and simultaneously I begin to work with my sauce, depending on what dish I’m making.. So here’s how to get done.
Water– Pasta needs to cook in enough water. So, use a large vessel that has space to accommodate both the pasta and the water. Make sure that the pasta don’t clump together. The thumb rule is to use 1 litre of water for every 100 grams of pasta is good enough. Only add the pasta little by little when the water comes to a nice boil. DO NOT add oil to the pasta as oil sticks to the pasta and prevents the sauces from sticking to it.
Salt- Pasta requires lots of salt while cooking. So add in a generous handful.
Cooking Time: Usually most packs will carry instructions on how long the pasta needs to cook. So read the pack carefully. A safer trick I use is to cook the pasta for a minute or two less than what is mentioned on the pack. e.g. If the pack mentions to cook pasta for say 10 minutes, you could cook it for say 8 or 9 minutes.
The term ‘Al- Dente’ (to the tooth) is used to describe that stage in the (pasta) cooking process when the pasta is cooked but firm to the bite. It is when the pasta is about 75 % to 80 % done. Once the pasta reaches this stage, drain out the pasta on a colander. Retain a ladle or two of the water to use in the sauce if you like. Its flavourful 😛
Always remember that pasta absorbs sauces well when its hot. Drop the pasta into the simmering sauce, add a huge helping of EVOO and some cheese and enjoy.
Here are two of my favorite pasta recipes:
One the most traditional yet simplest of Italian Classics, this one is a year long favorite due to the easy availability of all ingredients. Simple chopped garlic in olive oil with red chilli flakes and some white wine. Traditionally, cheese is not added to the recipe. I had made this one for ‘The world on my plate series’ and have kept making this since then for almost every week. Simple food at its best.
Pasta in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Another classic method of preparing pasta in pairing it with tomato. This one is so simple that you cannot get it wrong. I used the piquancy of red chillies, the delicate kick of white wine and generous helpings of EVOO and then that ever so Italian favorite, Pamesan Cheese.
- 1 pack spiralli pasta (Or any pasta you like)
- 10-12 garlic cloves, slivered
- Tomato concessae (Refer notes below)
- 120 ml Extra Virgin olive oil (do not substitute with any other oil)
- 1 tablespoon, butter
- 1 teaspoon, red chilli flakes
- 4-5 leaves of basil
- 80 ml dry white wine
- 60 grams Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon, dried Italian herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and oregano)
- 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (2 to cook and 1 for garnishing)
- Salt- use some more than your regular amount
- Water- to cook the pasta (refer directions above)
- Cook the pasta as instructed on the pack. Drain and keep aside.
- Keep about 3 tablespoons of the olive aside and heat the rest along with the butter till you hear a sizzle.
- When the oil is hot, add the garlic and allow it to cook till it is reddish brown. Add the basil, parsley, the red chillies and the herbs and stir well.
- Add the tomato concessae and mix well. Now de-glaze your pan with the white wine.
- Lastly add the pasta and mix well.
- Serve in a plate, drizzle with the remaining olive oil over the pasta and then garnish with parsley and parmesan cheese.
To make the tomato concessae:
- Make a horizontal and vertical slit on the tomatoes a
- Bring water to a boil and add the tomatoes. Let them remain in water till you see the skin peeling off.
- Take off the heat and add keep under cold running water for some time.
- Remove the peel and seeds and chop finely.