Okay, it’s Day 8 of our 20-Day/20-Part series of meal planning blog posts titled “Tips, Tricks, and Secrets of Professional Chefs”. Last post, we talked about how Brown is Beautiful!
Today, we’re gonna get our Italiano on, and look at Secret #8: Perfect Pasta!
Okay, let’s face it…cooking pasta really isn’t all that difficult. Most of the time, just following the package directions will get you a pretty tasty finished product.
Still, if you’ve ever been to a good Italian restaurant, you probably noticed that there’s just something different about the pasta there, something that takes it to the next level.
Here are 5 somethings that the Capo cuoco is doing, back in the kitchen, that makes all the difference…
1. Salt yes, oil no.
Once your water is boiling, toss in a small handful of sea salt (about 1 tbsp. per quart). Your pasta is going to absorb that water as it cooks, so you’re effectively seasoning the pasta from the inside out. Also, regardless of what you learned at home (sorry, Mom) never add oil to the water.
You WANT your pasta to be sticky, that’s what keeps the sauce adhered to each strand. To keep it from clumping in the pot, give it an occasional stir with your tongs. On a related note…for the same reason above, never, ever, ever, rinse your pasta after cooking.
Rinsing your pasta is a sin against God.
2. Keep a cup or two
When you cook your pasta, save a couple of cups of the cooking water. This salty, starchy pasta broth is a major component in those lovely sauces. Use a little to start your sauce, and a bit more to thin it just before adding the pasta. The starch adds a silky, rich component to your sauce, as well as helping it combine with the pasta.
…not the other way around. I know, I know…we’ve all seen the picture: a big bowl of steaming pasta, topped with a lava-like scoop of sauce.
Try this, next time:
Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and, just before your pasta is done to your taste, add a serving of sauce and then a serving of hot pasta (straight from the water with tongs) directly to the pan.
Give it a flip or two to combine, and pour directly onto the plate or bowl.
This step allows the final cooking of the pasta to happen while in the sauce, which pulls in some of that additional flavor, and insures that you have sauce clinging to every bite. For tube or shell-shaped pastas, this step also allows the sauce to “get inside” each piece.
If the sauce looks a little thin, let is simmer a couple more minutes to reduce. If it looks a little thick, add a bit of your reserved pasta water.
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4. Butter makes everything better!
A couple of teaspoons each of butter and olive oil, added to the pasta/sauce combo during those last couple of flips in the pan, really pulls your sauce together, while creating a smooth, unctuous mouth feel.
Remember, fat is a flavor transmitter.
5. The big finish…
This last tip is optional, but it really does go a long way in taking a great dish of pasta to a fantastic dish of pasta…the toppings. Add a healthy sprinkle of fresh-ground black pepper, some shredded or shaved Parmigiano–Reggiano, or (my favorite) shredded asiago cheese, and/or a dash of freshly chopped basil and Italian parsley, just before serving.
Not only are these add-ons pretty, and make for a classy looking dish, but they add an extra layer of flavor to those all-important first bites. Try this with my favorite pasta dish, Cacio e Pepe con Pollo, pictured at the top of this post…sure to please even your pickiest patrons!
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