Cooking Pasta and Rice

Pasta

By far my favorite food is pasta. It is a loving companion to just about any sauce you want to put it with. It comes in the most amazing shapes and sizes. And it is sooooo satisfying.

Cooking pasta is quite simple if you follow some basic guidelines.  I will only speak of dried pasta because I experimented with a pasta machine and the effort and taste was not worth it.  If foodies tell you that only fresh will do, send them to Italy for a lesson.  That said these are the Pasta guidelines:

1) Pasta must be cooked in the largest pot you have.  The 8 quart stock pot referenced Equipment is basic. 10 or more quarts are ideal. Why so big?  Pasta needs room to swim and it hates crowding.

2) Pasta water must be salted.  A tablespoon for 8 quarts is not excessive.  NEVER NEVER NEVER put oil in pasta water.

3) Pasta must be placed in the pot when water is at a full boil. If you put it in too early it will stick together and not be very happy!

4) Pasta must be stirred to keep it swimming and prevent sticking.  I like to use a tool called a “spider strainer” (see equipment for a picture).

5) Pasta should be cooked al dente — which means you remove a strand of spaghetti from the water with your tongs, let it cool a bit and bite it with your front teeth. It should be firm not mushy — which is overcooked “Franco American Canned Spaghetti” style.  Al dente pasta is essential because you will want to cook your pasta in sauce for a bit to create a marriage between the two ingredients.

6) Some pasta cooking water is always reserved. It contains starches and helps to thicken sauces if that is required.

7) Cooked pasta is usually drained in a colander.  It is NEVER NEVER NEVER rinsed because that removes all the starches that bind the sauce to the pasta.

HOW MUCH PASTA?

In “Pastace” my cookbook for gay friends I used an earthy measurement technique whick also applies to women who enjoy the company of men.

“Think of a girthy erect penis.  If you circle it with your thumb and first finger the spaghetti that would fit in that space is pasta for one.  If you move to your middle finger and thumb, that is pasta for two. And if you move to your thumb and ring finger — you two will never go hungry!”

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Bottom line is that I cannot tell you how much pasta to eat or serve — you need to figure that out for yourselves.

How to skip the collander thing.

TIP When the noodles are al dente, I start to scoop them out with my spider strainer and place them directly in the pot with the sauce. I let them drain a bit as I scoop.   I mix these noodles with the sauce and let the marriage be consumated.  Clearly if I am making a huge batch of sauce I put a cupfull in another pot and add the pasta.  I can always add more sauce as the noodles cook.  This process utilizes the starch on the pasta as a medium to create the union.

WHAT SORT OF PASTA

The shape of pasta is not wholly arbitrary. It can be fanciful!  Some pasta shapes like linguini, fettucini and spaghetti are designed to be coated with sauce. Others like Farfalle (bow ties), shells and orichetti have places where sauce can pool.  Ziti, rotell1, elbows and penne like shapes combine the coating and pooling. Lasagne is a dividing pasta which invites layering.  Suffed pasta like ravioli and manicotti like to be lightly sauced so their inner goodness comes out.

There are specialty pastas. Squid ink black pasta. Pastas made from different wheats and sometimes vegetable additives.  Pasta that didn’t quite make it to the Lasagna level – Tagliatelli which loves to be coated with rich sauces and treated like something more than extra wide fettucini.

In many recipes I will suggest a type of pasta that I think goes best with the sauce.  You are free to choose your own.

Rice

Years back I met a beautiful Asian woman who was in the original Broadway cast of “The King and I”.  She played one of the Emperor’s (Yul Brenner’s) many children and had wonderful backstage stories that never got published.   TOO BAD—oooo Mr. Brenner “Such a puzzlement!”

One day when she was visiting my family, she shared her fool proof rice technique with my mother who was always eager to learn new things.

You put rice in a pot and add enough water to cover the first joint in your pointer finger when it is inserted in the rice and it touches the bottom of the pot.  You bring the rice to a rapid boil cover it and set it aside to rest and finish cooking.  Somehow my mother got the technique down and produced perfect fluffy rice.

TIP I tried using a stove and failed until I decided to use a microwave.  Today I use my corning casserole, put in the rice and water up to the first finger joint. I  microwave it on HI for 6min then microwave it at level 6 for twelve minutes and let it sit.  My microwave is old so you might need to make adjustmnents. But it works for me.  I have learned that brown rice requires more time on both ends, but it works just fine.

I have also used this technique with modifications for lentils and barley.

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Brown Jasmine rice with Braised  Lamb Shanks — See Recipes — Mains–Meat

TIP  The measuring cup pictured in Equipment “Things that Measure” creates perfect rice moulds.   Scoop into the cooked rice with the cup and using a knife or spatula level off the cup pressing firmly as you doo.  A simple flip and tap on the cup and you have a wonderful presentation.  You may also use a clean tuna can to creat

The beautiful thing about rice (and lentels and barley) is that it has the ability to absorb falvors.

Pasta gets coated.  Rice sucks it up!

The king of flavor suckers is Aborio rice and the other short grain rices.

That said, I will now refer you to Recipes – Rice  where you will find  a wonderul recipe for Risotto with Asparagus that I first had in a cafe in Venice years ago. I have modified this dish over the years.