Whip out your colanders, folks, World Pasta Day is just around the corner.
It's easy to remember the date, just two months before Christmas, each year on Oct. 25. And as major producers of the world's finest wheat, that should give Canadians (especially Prairie folk) something to celebrate.
Canadian farmers grow the best wheat in the world and export so much of it that even if you buy imported pasta, the odds are pretty good it's been made from the wheat that's practically growing in your own backyard. So feel free, as always, to buy local.
The varieties of pasta seem almost endless, but there are really only two types: fresh or dried. They are simply used in different ways.
If you are making or buying fresh pasta, it will generally be a flat strand like tagliatelli, fettuccine, lasagna or a stuffed variety like tortellini. All of these will tend to absorb more sauce.
Most of us will use dried pasta most of the time. It is economical and stores well, so there can always be something on hand. Dried pasta is made from durum wheat, which is ground into semolina flour. While tomato-based sauces are generally a favourite because sauces tend to "float" on the pasta rather than be absorbed by it, you really can be as creative as you like with different sauces.
Here are a few pointers to help you get your pasta just right.
- The most common mistake in making pasta is trying to get away with too little water. Because pasta comes in so many different shapes and sizes, each with their own cooking time and water requirements, your best bet is to read the recommended amounts on the package. And err in favour of too much water, rather than a too little. The pasta needs room to move freely as the water boils.
- How much do you need to cook? Generally speaking, 300 grams of dried pasta will yield around six cups of pasta, enough for four servings. Remember though, that's a ballpark figure. For more accuracy, I found a nifty yields chart for a large variety of pastas at Kraft Foods at www.kraftcanada.com. Or go to www.kraftcanada.com and click on "cooking school" near the top of the page. Then scroll down to "ingredients 101" on the left side of the page. There you'll see "pasta centre" which will take you to the page that has "pasta measuring chart" on the bottom left.
From there, cross the fields of Mordor...
Seriously, it's worth checking out.
- Salt the water! I never used to do this. Once I tried it though, I found it made a huge difference to the flavour, Use about 30 ml (2 tbsp) for amounts over 500 g (1lb) of pasta. And be sure the water is at a full rolling boil before you add the pasta. Give the pot a bit of a stir to make sure that all the strands or pieces are separating so they don't cook into one gelatinous clump, and keep checking. When you are preparing your sauce, don't forget to take into account the salt you have added to your water. You may not want to add any salt to your sauce at all.
Begin to time your pasta after you add the pasta to the water and the pot returns to a boil. If you are cooking fresh pasta, cook for about two minutes and check it every minute or so after that -- it will cook quickly. If you are cooking dried pasta, anywhere from six to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the pasta, should do it. Always check it for doneness by trying a little piece. It's really the only way to be sure it is the right texture. Again, check out the package instructions.
- Plan to add the hot sauce as soon as the pasta is drained. The longer it sits, the more likely it is to clump. Toss the pasta with enough sauce to thoroughly coat it and then pour remaining sauce on top. If you have more sauce than you need, you can serve it in a dish on the side. Remember also, that if you are using a flavoured pasta, you need to accommodate those flavours when choosing a sauce.
- If you are making a cold salad, rinse the pasta thoroughly with cold water to stop the cooking process and speed final preparation.
Once cooked, pasta can be kept in the fridge for about two days.
Curried chicken lasagna
2 kg (41/2 lbs) boneless chicken
340 g (12 oz) dried lasagne noodles
55 g (2 oz) butter or margarine
30 ml (2 tbsp) flour
45 ml (3 tbsp) curry powder
1.1 l (2 pints) milk
salt and pepper
40 g (1.5 oz) shredded coconut
15 ml (1 tbsp) fresh bread crumbs
1. Skin chicken, remove flesh, trim off the fat and cut meat into half-inch chunks.
2. Cook several lasagna noodles at a time in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender. Drain, rinse in cold water, then cool on a cloth.
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in flour and curry power and cook for one minute, stirring. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the milk.
4. Return to heat, bring to a boil slowly and cook until sauce thickens, stirring continually. Simmer for five minutes, season with salt and pepper to taste and add most of coconut.
5. Spoon some sauce into a large, shallow rectangular baking dish. Arrange the lasagna and chicken in single layers, adding a little sauce to each layer. Finish with lasagna, pouring the rest of the sauce over the top.
6. Sprinkle with the remaining coconut and bread crumbs. Bake in oven at 350 F (175 C) for about one hour, until top is brown.
Zesty shrimp & pasta
300 g (11 oz) linguine, uncooked 1/3 package
175 ml (3/4 cup) Italian dressing
500 ml (2 cups) fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, thick slices
1 398 ml can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained, quartered (optional)
red and/or green peppers, sliced (optional in place of artichoke)
500 g (1 lb) large shrimp, cleaned
15 ml (1 tbsp) fresh parsley, chopped
50 ml (1/4 cup) Parmesan-style grated cheese
1. Cook pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup (125 ml) Italian dressing in a large skillet on medium heat. Stir in mushrooms, onions and artichokes; cook until onions are crisp tender, stirring occasionally.
2. Add shrimp and parsley and stir. Cook until shrimp are pink and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
3. Drain pasta and place in large bowl. Add shrimp mixture and remaining 50 ml (1/4 cup) dressing and mix lightly. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.
Napa Valley linguine
75 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
30 ml (2 tbsp) capers (or chopped sun-dried tomatoes or both)
10 ml (2 tsp) minced garlic
1 ml (1/4 tsp) hot chili flakes
50 ml (1/4 cup) feta cheese
half lime, juice and zest
55 g (2 oz) proscuitto or (ham, bacon, capicollo or any cold cut), thinly sliced
30 g (1 oz) arugula leaves (or spinach or Swiss chard)
1 500g pkg (17.6 oz) linguine, cooked al dente and drained, reserve about 250 ml (1 cup) cooking water
feta or Parmesan cheese, for garnish
freshly grated black pepper to taste
pine nuts or walnuts (optional)
1. Heat oil in sauté pan. Add capers, garlic, chili flakes, feta, lime juice and zest. Sauté over medium heat for about five minutes, then stir until smooth.
2. Add proscuitto and arugula, cooking briefly until arugula wilts.
3. Add hot, cooked pasta and a small amount of reserved pasta water. Toss and serve with feta or Parmesan cheese and pepper, sprinkle nuts on top if desired. Serves 2 to 3.