Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Contact Us | Home RSS

Some pointers for perfect pasta

December 5, 2012
Weirton Daily Times


Food editor

There are bow ties, ditalini, cavatelli, vermicelli, rigatoni, gemelli, acini di pepe, ziti, wagon wheel, angel hair, rotini, manicotti, fusilli, and capellini types of pasta.

Article Photos

There are many types of pasta, but the most familiar to most cooks and the children who like to slurp it is spaghetti. This dish was made with a tomato, sausage and pepper sauce.
-- Esther McCoy

And that's just some of the many shapes and sizes of pasta, an Italian word that simply means paste, or a mixture of flour and water that can be cut or shaped and cooked in countless ways.

This information is from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, along with ways to cook perfect pasta and how to tell when it is done.

In preparing the popular dish, make sure to look at the package directions because cooking times for different shapes and brands vary. Some hints are:

Don't skimp on the cooking water. For 16 ounces of pasta, use four to six quarts of water in a large pot. This may look like a lot of water, but pasta needs to move freely in the boiling water so the strands or pieces don't stick together.

Cover the pot to bring the water quickly to boiling temperature. Keep the water boiling by adding the pasta slowly. Cook uncovered while maintaining a rolling boil.

Drain cooked pasta in a colander and shake well to get rid of excess water. Skip the rinse as rinsing removes the light coating of starch that covers the surface of each piece of pasta. That coating helps the sauce and seasonings cling. Rinse, using cool water, only if you plan to fill or layer the pasta or use the pasta in a salad.

Pasta continues cooking even after draining. Serve immediately or it will become too soft. To keep pasta warm for a few minutes before serving, use one of the following methods:

Return the drained, cooked pasta to the warm cooking pan. Stir in any additional ingredients or toss pasta with a little butter to help prevent it from sticking together. If you add oil to the cooking water, it is not necessary to add more oil. Cover and let the pasta stand for no more than 15 minutes.

Fill a serving bowl with hot water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty and dry the bowl; add the hot pasta and cover. Serve the pasta within 5 minutes.

Eight ounces of uncooked small, medium or long pasta makes 4 cups of cooked pasta. Eight ounces of uncooked egg noodles makes 2 1/2 cups cooked pasta. When buying refrigerated, fresh pasta, plan on 3 ounces for each main dish serving and 1 1/2 to 2-ounces for each side dish serving. Substitute 6 to 8-ounces of refrigerated pasta for 4 ounces of dried pasta.

Matching sauce with the pasta needs to be done to complement the dish. Light thin sauces are best paired with thin, delicate pastas, such as angel hair or vermicelli spaghetti. Chunks sauces are best partnered with pasta with holes or ridges, such as mostaccioli, ziti , rotini or radiatore. Heavy sauces compliment sturdier pasta shapes, such as fettuccine, linguine, bucatini or lasagna noodles.

Homemade pasta can be made even without a pasta machine. It will depend on the dough to be cut into either very thin or thicker slices. This recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

Homemade Pasta

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon dried basil or sage, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon cooking oil or olive oil

In a large bowl, stir together 2 cups of flour, basil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. In a small bowl, beat eggs; add water and oil. Add egg mixture to flour mixture; stir to combine. Sprinkle a clean kneading surface with the remaining 1/3 cup of flour. Turn dough out onto the floured surface. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes total. Cover and let dough rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough into four equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 12-inch square, about 1/16-inch thick. Let stand, uncovered about 20 minutes. Cut in strips according to preference, such as 1/16-inch thick for spaghetti, 1/8-inch thick for linguine or 1/4-inch thick for fettuccine or noodles. For lasagna, cut in 2 1/2-inch wide strips.

This recipe calls for cooking the pasta in the sauce, rather than cooking in boiling water first. It is best to use dried pasta for this.

One-Pot Spaghetti

8 ounces ground beef or bulk pork sausage

1 cup sliced, fresh mushrooms or a 6-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, drained

1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 medium

1 clove garlic, minced

14-ounce can chicken or beef broth

1 3/4 cup water

6-ounce can tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

6 ounces dried spaghetti broken

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, cook the ground meat, fresh mushrooms, onion and garlic until meat is brown and onion is tender. Drain. Stir in canned mushrooms, if using this type, broth, water, tomato paste, seasonings and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Add broken spaghetti, a little at a time, stirring constantly. Return to boiling and reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for 17 to 20 minutes or until spaghetti is tender and sauce is of the desired consistency, stirring frequently. Serve with Parmesan cheese. Makes four servings at 394 calories per serving.

This is a dish from northern Italy and stretches flavorful sausage with white beans. Cannellini are traditional, but any white bean will work.

White Bean and Sausage Rigatoni

2 cups dried rigatoni, 8 ounces

15-ounce can white kidney beans, Great Northern beans or navy beans, rinsed and drained

14.5-ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes, undrained

8 ounces cooked, smoked turkey sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/3 cup shredded Asiago or Parmesan cheese, 1-ounce

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to saucepan. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine beans, undrained tomatoes, sausage and dried basil. Cook and stir until heated through. Add meat mixture and fresh basil to pasta. Stir gently to combine. To serve, sprinkle each of the four servings with cheese. This is 432 calories per serving.

This pasta is made with half and half, light cream, chopped clams, white wine and fresh parsley. It is from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook as well.

Pasta with White Clam Sauce

10 ounces dried linguine or fettuccine

Two 6.5-ounce cans chopped or minced clams

About 2 cups half-and-half, light cream or while milk

1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 medium

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley

1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm. Meanwhile, drain canned clams, reserving the juice from one can, it should be about 1/2 cup, Add enough of the half-and-half to the reserve clam juice to equal 2 1/2 cups liquid. Set clams and clam juice mixture aside. In a medium saucepan, cook onion and garlic in hot butter until tender but not brown. Stir in flour, oregano, salt and black pepper. Add clam juice mixture all at once. Cook and stir for 1 minute more.

Stir in drained clams, parsley and wine. Heat through. Serve over warm pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Makes four servings at 595 calories per serving.

(McCoy can be contacted at

I am looking for: