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Pasta to the rescue during holidays

Pasta to the rescue during holidays
Pasta to the rescue during holidays
Suetta Tingler

There’s nothing like the excitement of the holidays. Sure, Thanksgiving can be a ton of work from menu planning to cooking to entertaining. There’s also the likelihood of hosting house guests, certain to stretch every morsel of the cooking spirit out of a cook’s tired, weary body. It’s these times when pasta comes to the rescue.

Pasta is the one food that can charm the taste buds of any age at any time.

Most meals can be pasta perfect but don’t be so quick to grab just any box of dry pasta off the grocery shelf. Take time, read labels, look for pasta made in Italy and find the words “bronze die,” “bronze cut” or “bronze extruded” if you want to swirl on your fork the best-tasting pastas.

Have you ever eaten pasta and found the sauce pooled in the bottom of the bowl or was left on your plate? There’s reason for this to happen; therefore, bronze die is what you want. Locally, consumers have only a selection of a few brands and shapes of packaged pasta; but, in larger cities, especially with high Italian populations, there are aisles of pasta to cruise and many different shapes, flavors and brands to from which to choose. That’s one reason I love to roam the large ethnic stores like Caputo’s, Pete’s or the deli around the corner when I visit family in Chicago.

The flour and eggs that make up pastas are mixed together and tend to be extruded through molds lined with Teflon that creates a shiny, smooth dough. Yes, it’s the same Teflon material that coats our pots and pans. Here’s the problem with this operation: The pasta made is so smooth that sauce slides quickly off of the pieces or strands of pasta.

Bronze-die cut pastas have a matte appearance, are less dense and more porous, with rough surface grooves that allow sauce to cling rather than to slide off. The more traditional Italian method for cutting pasta is to use bronze die rather than being extruded through Teflon-coated molds. Unfortunately, the bronze-die method fell out of favor when Teflon came on board because the Teflon method is cheaper.

Perhaps, the most overrated culinary fad these days is to purchase a pasta maker to make one’s own. Most pasta makers rely upon Teflon. Celebrity cook Ina Garten freely comments that making pasta is a lot of work that can easily be avoided when purchasing a good quality pasta.

Because the Italian culinary world is almost synonymous with great pasta, ask an Italian what makes a great tasting noodle and likely the answer will lie in using a combination of quality ingredients that includes durum wheat semolina, authentic Old-World recipes, air drying the pasta up to 20 hours and using bronze die. The air drying is important to give the perfect “al dente” texture to the pasta when cooked.

Why so many different shapes of pasta? Some shapes work best with certain recipes and sauces. It’s not one shape for all but rather a definite noodle for every pasta lover or recipe. Despite hundreds of shapes, pasta can be divided into three broad groups:

Long cuts are strands like spaghetti, fettuccini or linguine. These pastas shout for red sauce and meatballs or a mild seafood style of sauce as in clam linguine.

Short cuts include fusilloni, conchiglioni, penne, shells, ziti and rigatoni where each shape is designed for a different purpose as to stuff, bake or make cheesy.

Soup pastas are teeny cuts of noodles such as ditalini, orzo or pastina that easily fit into spoons.

Hints and tips:

A simple way to remember to save some pasta cooking water is to place a measuring cup next to the pasta pot. It’s best to scoop out cooking water before draining the noodles. Adding a small amount of starchy water will help thicken the sauce.

Al dente refers to pasta cooked just long enough to be neither crunchy nor too soft.

Make pasta a part of your daily “rotini” when stirring up these terrific pasta recipes. Always start with the best pasta. Brands like Barilla, Colavita, La Molisana and De Cecco tend not to disappoint.

Shrimp and prawns are different sea creatures but for cooking purposes think of prawns as large-size shrimp.

GARLIC SHRIMP PASTA

Scampi Style

1/2 cup butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 pound uncooked prawns

Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and Italian herb blend

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat in skillet. Season prawns with salt and pepper and sauté 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove prawns; set aside. Add butter, remaining olive oil and garlic to pan. Sauté 1 minute then add the wine; simmer for 2 more minutes. Add prawns and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Finish by adding to prawns a pinch of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and Italian herbs. Serve over warm pasta.

RIGATONI WITH CREAMY GENOVESE PESTO

1 box Rigatoni pasta

1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

1 jar creamy Genovese Pesto

10 sweet basil leaves, torn

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; cook pasta according to pasta package directions. Meanwhile, place pesto in bowl, stir in 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and then toss with pesto. Top with cheese and garnish with basil leaves before serving. Serves 8.

PASTA WITH WHITE CLAM SAUCE

1 pound fresh linguine or 12 ounces dried linguine

1/4 cup butter

1 to 2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons flour

2 (6-1/2 ounce) cans chopped clams

1/4 cup dry white wine

Half and Half

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat pasta cooking water in a large pot. Melt butter in a small saucepan; add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes. Drain clams, reserving juice. Combine reserved clam juice and white wine. Add enough Half and Half to make 2 cups liquid. Add to flour mixture gradually and cook until sauce thickens slightly. Add parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Cook pasta while sauce is simmering. Add clams to sauce and heat to serving temperature. Combine with hot, well-drained pasta and serve immediately on warm plates. Serves 4.

“Little ears” gets its name from the shape of the orecchiette pasta.

SOUTHERN ITALIAN LITTLE EARS

(Pasta with sausage, broccoli and pesto)

12 ounces broccoli

12 ounces orecchiette pasta

4 ounces pesto

18 ounces sweet Italian pork sausage, bulk or in casings

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

4 teaspoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and dry broccoli. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cut broccoli florets into l-inch pieces. Remove sausage if in casings. Once water boils, add pasta. Cook until al dente, 9 to 11 minutes. Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water then drain. In a large pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Add broccoli and 4 teaspoons of water; cover and steam 3 minutes. Uncover and increase heat to medium high. Cook, tossing occasionally, until browned and tender, 3 to 6 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan and set aside. Heat another drizzle of oil in the same pan over medium heat; add sausage, breaking up meat into pieces. Cook until crisp at edges and no pink, 4 to 5 minutes. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to taste and cook another 30 seconds. Add the orecchiette, broccoli, pesto, pasta cooking water and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese; toss until everything is well-coated and a thick sauce has formed, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese before serving.

GOOD FOOD,

GOOD MEMORIES

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