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Few of us have the time to make fresh pasta at home, except maybe for a special occasion. Most of the time, it’s just commercially prepared dry pasta out of a box. But when properly cooked, good quality commercially prepared pasta can taste just as good as making it at home.
Cooking pasta is as easy as boiling water, but it does require a little care. Use about a quart of water per quarter pound of pasta, or six quarts per pound. The pasta will be become slightly gummy if you don’t use enough water.
Bring the water to a rolling boil, and then add about 1/4 cup salt per six quarts of water. Don’t be skimpy with the salt or the pasta will be bland. The water should taste like the sea. Add the pasta, stirring gently to separate the pieces and keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Although the pasta package will say how long the pasta should be cooked, don’t trust it. A couple of minutes before it is supposed to be done, fish out a piece and taste it. Typically, pasta should be cooked “al dente” or “tender crisp,” still offering resistance to the bite, but cooked through.
Continue cooking the pasta until done to your satisfaction. At this point, drain the pasta, giving it a couple good shakes to remove most of the water (do not even think about rinsing it), and then transfer it to a bowl; stir the sauce into it and serve.
Pasta Provençal (low fat)
3 Tbsps. olive oil
4-6 green onions, green and white parts chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
4 tsps. minced garlic
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz.) stewed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
3 cups low-fat chicken broth
Basil and parsley, chopped, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
16 oz. angel hair pasta, cooked and drained.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil; add the green onions and mushrooms. Sauté a few minutes, and then add the squash. Once softened, add the garlic and sauté a few minutes more. Add chicken broth, tomatoes and half of the tomato paste. Bring to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Add more paste if necessary. Add the herbs just before the sauce is done cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over cooked angel hair pasta. Add grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 4-6 servings.
Asparagus Pasta Stir Fry
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
1/2 cup sliced onion
2 Tbsps. vegetable oil
2 Tbsps. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
6 oz. angel hair pasta, cooked and drained
Diagonally slice asparagus into 1.5 to 2-inch pieces. Stir-fry asparagus and onion until crisp and tender. Add remaining seasonings and mix well. Add cooked pasta and stir-fry until thoroughly heated and evenly mixed. Makes 6 servings.
Classic Spaghetti Carbonara
Another fine use for a Southern staple—bacon.
1/2 lb. bacon, chopped
2 cups julienned ham
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
16 oz. spaghetti, cooked al dente
4 large eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crispy, about six minutes. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels.
Pour off all of the oil except for three tablespoons. Add the garlic. Season with black pepper and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the crispy bacon, ham and the pasta. Sauté for another minute.
Season the eggs with salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the eggs, whisking quickly until the eggs thicken, but do not scramble. Add the cheese and re-season with salt and pepper. Mound into serving bowls and garnish with plenty of parsley.
You can also add 1/4 cup sliced ripe olives and 1/2 cup sliced pimentos (optional). Makes 4 servings.
Linguine with Tomatoes and Gremolata
A mixture of chopped parsley, garlic and grated lemon rind, called gremolata, is sprinkled over the finished pasta.
12 oz. linguine
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 yellow tomato, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
2 Tbsps. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 Tbsps. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tsps. grated lemon rind
1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
For gremolata, combine parsley, lemon rind and garlic in a small bowl; set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot; drain. Return pasta to pot and set aside. Sauté one teaspoon garlic in hot oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for one minute or until lightly browned. Stir in diced tomatoes, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in two tablespoons parsley. Pour tomato sauce over the hot cooked pasta, and toss to combine.
Top each serving evenly with chopped yellow tomatoes and gremolata mixture. Drizzle each serving evenly with extra-virgin olive oil, if desired. Makes 4-6 servings.
Penne Rigate with Salmon and Creamy Herb Vodka Sauce
12 oz. penne rigate
8 oz. smoked salmon, thinly sliced and cut into thin strips
1/2-cup fresh parsley, minced
1/4-cup fresh basil, shredded
Juice of one lemon, strained
2 oz. vodka
Salt and pepper to taste
One scallion, minced
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
Set pasta water to boil; add salt and cook the pasta. In the meantime, heat oil in a broad skillet and sauté the scallion until it is golden; do not overbrown. Add salmon, stir it about, and add the vodka; cook until vodka has evaporated. Add the cream, lemon juice and herbs; check seasoning.
Remove the sauce heat and keep warm; when the pasta is done, place in serving bowl and add vodka sauce. Serve at once. Makes 4 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at email@example.com.