Friday, March 06, 2009

Pass-a the Pasta

Not every mother knows how to cook. That is a sad fact of life. My own mother, bless her heart, has a hate/hate relationship with the kitchen. She avoids any and all forms of cooking and yet was somehow blessed with four daughters who all love to cook. She says she doesn’t know how it happened. I think it was nature’s way of balancing out the universe.

Most of the cooking techniques I’ve learned over the years have either come to me as pearls of wisdom from other women in my life or from my own experimentation. In some ways, I feel a little late to the cooking wagon as it wasn’t something demonstrated regularly as I grew up, and so some of the tips I’m about to offer may seem a little elementary to some of my readers, but I’d like to share them just the same, as they did make a big difference to me when I learned them.

In order to make perfect pasta al dente, bring a pot of water completely to boil before adding the noodles. Don’t put the noodles in while the water is just hot, or just starting to bubble—a full rolling boil is what you’re waiting for. Oh, and don’t watch it … because you know what will happen then.

Try to add your noodles all at once so they’ve each been in the water the same amount of time. If you add one handful now and another five minutes from now, some portions of your dinner will be cooked and others will be overcooked.

Once your noodles are added, don’t turn down the heat. Keep that roiling boil going. If your pot starts to overflow, you can stick a cup in there and siphon off some of the water, but reducing the heat causes the pasta to go mushy. And next time, just use a little less water.

The shape of your pasta will determine the cooking time. Penne and bowtie pastas take longer to cook because they are thicker. Angel hair takes the least amount of time because it’s so thin. Either way, we’re not talking hours. Pasta does cook up fairly quickly, twelve-fifteen minutes at most for the thickest pasta.

Test your pasta for doneness by pulling out a piece and tasting it. Oh, sure, throw it at the wall if you really want to, but the only way you’ll know if it’s ready to eat is to eat it.

Just as important as all the rest of this is to serve it as soon as it’s done. As pasta cools, it sticks together and turns into a mass of congealed gluten. Yum, right? No. Serve while the pasta is hot and your family will be much happier.

Once a month, I’ll be sharing cooking tips I’ve picked up along the way. Some will be new to you, some will be redundant. But if I can save even one poor soul from burning dinner the night the guy they used to have a crush on comes over for dinner and they’re trying to impress him with their culinary skills, I’ll consider it all a success.

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Kimberly said...

Oh the number of years it has taken me to learn such simple lessons! Looking forward to learning some I might not have yet!

Keeley said...

Another tip is to add a dollop of olive oil to the pot so it doesn't fizz up all over the place.

Also, if you have leftovers, mix them with leftover sauce or a bunch of butter or something and they won't stick into a massive lump.

Also, if you're reheating them in the microwave, add a little water. No, wait, that's a tip for reheating rice. Nevermind. =D

Nichole Giles said...

Great tips. And you're right that not every mother knows how to cook, or if she does, enjoys it.

It is funny that your mom didn't like it. You're quite the cook these days. Loved that carrot cake the other day! Actually, sounds really good right now. (And usually, I'm not a huge carrot cake fan.)


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