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Pasta is the culinary jack-of-all-trades. With all the different varieties and the virtually infinite number of sauces that can be made, it’s one of the most versatile foods on earth. You could literally make pasta every night of the week, and with the exception of the pasta itself, have a different meal each time. Let’s review some pasta cooking tips.
1) Always use a large pot with a copious amount of water at a full boil.
2) Always season the water with salt.
3) Don’t bother adding oil to the water; it will not prevent sticking.
4) Sticking is prevented by using an ample amount of water at a full boil, stirring the pasta, especially at the beginning, and not overcrowding the pot.
5) It is generally a good idea to cook the pasta until it is almost done and then finish it in your sauce. This allows for greater incorporation of the sauce with the pasta.
6) If your sauce is a little too thick or too dry, add some of the pasta water.
7) Match the pasta to the sauce based on the stoutness of the pasta and the heaviness of the sauce. Generally speaking, heartier sauces are paired with sturdier pastas and vice versa.
8) NEVER rinse your pasta unless you’re making a cold pasta preparation like pasta salad and you need to stop the carry over cooking immediately. Rinsing the pasta reduces the surface starch and thus inhibits the sauce from clinging to it. Rinsing pasta is for food neurotics with irrational ideas about carbohydrates, not real cooks.
ANGEL HAIR WITH LEMON-CAVIAR SAUCE
• 1 lb angel hair or spaghetti • 1 stick butter • 4 oz. olive oil • 3 lemons (zest from all three, juice from two) • Two (2 oz.) jars red lumpfish roe • Salt and white pepper to taste • Parsley, chopped, to taste
Begin by boiling the pasta in salted water. While the pasta is cooking melt the butter and olive oil in a large skillet and then add the lemon zest and juice. Cook the pasta until it is a minute or so from being done. Before draining it pour four ounces of the pasta water into the butter and oil. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet. Keep the heat on low. Add the caviar, and pepper and stir until the caviar is fully incorporated. The pasta will turn a bright orange-red. Taste to determine if it needs added salt. The caviar’s salinity may add enough salt to the dish for your palate. Finish with the parsley and serve. A crisp Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc would make a harmonious accompaniment.
ASIAN BEEF NOODLE SOUP
• 8 oz rice noodles • 6 oz. flank steak, sliced into very thin one inch pieces • Salt and pepper to taste • Vegetable oil as needed • 1 batch scallion, chopped • 3 large button mushrooms, chopped • 1 long hot pepper, chopped • 2 cloves garlic, minced • 12 oz. bean sprouts • 3 tablespoons rice wine • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar • 2 tablespoons soy sauce • 1 ½ quarts chicken broth • 1 small batch cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped • Sesame and/or hot chile oil for drizzling
Rice noodles cook within a few minutes. Have your water boiling and ready and add them when the soup is almost finished. Finish cooking them in the soup if need be. The best way to thinly slice the flank steak and other meats as well is to freeze it first. Then microwave it for just one minute. Slice it very thinly against the grain. Season the meat with salt and pepper and sauté in a very hot pan with a generous amount of vegetable oil. This should take no more than a minute. As soon as the meat is done, remove it from the pan and place it aside. Add more vegetable oil to the pan and sauté the scallions, mushrooms and hot pepper with some salt and pepper. When the vegetables are soft add the garlic and bean sprouts and sauté briefly. Deglaze with the rice wine, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the rice noodles and cilantro. Finish by drizzling with sesame or hot chile oil.
RIGATONI WITH ESCAROLE, BEANS & SAUSAGE
• 12 oz. Rigatoni pasta • Olive oil as needed • 1 lb. Italian sweet sausage, cut into half-inch pieces • Pinch of hot pepper flakes • 1 and a half pounds escarole, washed and chopped • Salt and pepper to taste • 1 (15.5 oz.) can Goya small white beans, drained and rinsed • 1 (14.5 oz.) can chicken broth • 1 tablespoon dried basil • Grated Parmesan and/or Romano cheese to taste
As you boil the pasta sauté the sausage and hot pepper flakes in a generous amount of olive oil until browned. Cook the pasta until it is a minute or so from being done. It will finish cooking in the sauce. Add the escarole, additional olive oil if necessary, and salt and pepper. Cook until the escarole has wilted. Add the beans, chicken broth and basil, bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook for a minute. Finish with additional salt and pepper, if need be and the cheese.
This recipe is very flexible. You can substitute penne, ziti, cavatelli, orecchiette or any other short and stout pasta as well as substituting any other type of bean you desire. Rarely will you find me employing dried basil, and you can certainly use fresh instead. I just happen to like the way the dried tastes in this dish. If you use the fresh, add it at the very end after you remove the pan from the heat. Serve with Chianti and Italian bread.