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Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

Making Perfect Pasta

By Robyn Webb, MS, LN ,

Pasta can be sorted into three main categories (leaving out the stuffed varieties, that is). Long noodles, like tagliatelle (1) and cappelini (10), differ by diameter and shape: They can be flat, hollow, thin, or round. There are more than 100 known varieties of short pasta, familiar ones like rigatoni (4) and fusilli (5) but an array of other shapes, too, including francesine (9), cavatappi (2), and galletti (6). Little pastas are used mainly in soups, although they can also go nicely in salads. They include ditalini (3), mini farfalle (8), and alphabet pasta (7).


Rigatoni With Italian Tomato Sauce

1. Choose a Noodle

First question: fresh or dry? It's mostly a matter of taste. Fresh pasta has a silky texture and a richer flavor than dry. It's well suited to delicate and smooth sauces, such as pesto. You'll want to cook and serve fresh pasta soon after buying (or making) it.

Dry pasta, on the other hand, retains its firmness when cooked. It's preferable for chunky sauces. The best dry pasta has a slightly rough texture. This indicates that the pasta was shaped using traditional bronze dies; sauces will adhere better to it. While it can be stored in a kitchen cabinet, you don't want to keep dry pasta more than a few months, since it will take on a stale taste.

Technique: Making Fresh Pasta
This basic method uses 4 eggs and about 3 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour (you can substitute up to half of it with whole wheat).

1. Mound the flour on a clean countertop. Make a well in the middle, and add the eggs, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Beat with a fork, combining the flour and liquid. 2. Knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary, for 15 minutes, or until you have a smooth, elastic ball. Let it rest 30 minutes at room temperature. 3. Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each out by hand or with a pasta machine before cutting it into the desired shape.

Orecchiette With
Creamy Cheese Sauce for Pasta

2. Cook It Properly

When cooking pasta, you want to give your noodles a lot of water to move around in. A good rule of thumb is about 6 quarts of water in an 8-quart pot for 1 pound of pasta. Salt the water; otherwise your pasta will taste flat no matter how good your sauce is. (Not to fear: Most of that sodium will eventually end up down the drain.)

Once the salted water is at a full, roiling boil, add the pasta. Then bring it back quickly to another boil, and time the cooking from there. The best way to maintain the boiling temperature is to put the lid on the pot once you have added the noodles. If the pasta water is not maintained at a rapid boil, the pasta will cook faster on the outside and remain raw on the inside. It's also more likely to stick together. And don't even think of adding oil to the cooking water. Oil makes it more difficult for the sauce to adhere to the pasta.

Pasta is best when it's cooked al dente (Italian for "to the tooth"); there should be a slight resistance when you chew. You can also tell if it's al dente by its appearance: Cut it in half and you should see a white spot at the center. But if you are planning on further simmering cooked pasta in a sauce, then slightly undercook your pasta, so you can finish it to al dente in the saucepot.

At a Glance: Portion Sizes

Concerned about carbohydrates? The nutrition information on the pasta package will have exact numbers, but in general, you can expect in the range of 12 to 15 grams of carb in each 1/3 cup serving of cooked pasta (left). That means 24 to 30 grams in 2/3 cup (center), and 36 to 45 in a full cup (right). Of course, you can always add volume to your plate (and a minimum of carbs) by maxing out the veggies. Italian Tomato Sauce can easily accommodate extra vegetables; so can a good-quality sauce you buy at the supermarket. Just cook up some chopped bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and the like and add them to the pot as you heat up the sauce.

Pappardelle With Pesto

3. Sauce It Well

While you want to drain the pasta thoroughly, resist the temptation to rinse it; the surface starch helps the sauce cling. But check your recipe before dumping the cooking water; it can come in handy for making some sauces, like Creamy Cheese Sauce for Pasta. Speaking of cheese: Refrain from automatically adding it to every pasta you eat. In Italy, cheese is used very selectively, and never in seafood sauces. For other dishes, it's best to just shave a small amount of flavorful hard cheese (say, Parmesan) on top of your plate.

A nice touch to finish: Warm the serving bowl you are going to serve the pasta in. The easiest way to do this is to pour some of the hot pasta cooking water into the bowl and let it sit for 30 seconds. Drain, and then add the noodles. Then take a moment to admire your work; pasta dishes should be served warm, not piping hot.

Recipes

Italian Tomato Sauce
Pesto
Creamy Cheese Sauce for Pasta

 
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