No longer living off of your mom's homemade meals or the quick and easy comfort of your school's canteen can make life hard, especially if you have the cooking experience of a five year old. Actually, no, that's unfair to say. My nephew is five and he's been to chef's camp and is better at using a kitchen knife than I am, so, sorry to generalize.
I'm no Jamie Oliver, and when I try to be, things come out interesting. I think it's some sort of gene a few of us in the family have inherited...this uncontrollable urge to alter the recipe into something far fetched and maybe it is creative but probably, as a finished product, is just bizarre. I think it comes from my dad to be honest, because one time he thought putting peanut butter on orange slices was a good idea. (♥) And it's not to say that those of this who have this gene don't enjoy cooking. In fact maybe we enjoy it even more since we have a tendency to think and actively go outside of the box. It's just not something so natural to us. And for me, when you expect the food to taste good and it doesn't, and a lack of time in a busy schedule, I end up giving up altogether.
But pasta is easy, right? This is what I hear, anyways. It's cheap too! And it's recognized as one of the world's favourite foods! So I went to my Italian friends (with added input from some French, Spanish and Danish friends) and consulted them on their tips and techniques when it comes to making a tasty dish of pasta.
An important factor is the water you cook the pasta in. It affects the taste of it more than you would think, but it does make sense. The water in each country is different. Some water is saltier, closer to the ocean, some water is filled with calcium (looking at you Denmark), some water is soft or hard, some water has the smell of sulphur. With so much environmental diversity, you won't get the same kind of water everywhere you go. Which means that there is a reason the pasta in Italy tastes so darn good. I'll save my pennies for a plane ticket to Italy but in the meantime, I'll settle for acqua di Copenhagen.
Another thing to consider is the brand and type of pasta you use. De Cecco and Garafolo are two brands of pasta approved by my friends. Then there are all sorts of different types of pasta: penne, rigatoni, spaghetti, fusilli, ravioli, and many, many more. I used to think the bowties or seashells were the prettiest, and I picked my type of pasta depending on what shape I felt looked the coolest, but it turns out, they all serve a different purpose. You'll usually use spaghetti for spaghetti and meatballs - that's obvious. For another instance, you'd use rigatoni or penne for a pasta dish with a lot of sauce or meat and veggies so it gets sucked into the tube part of the noodle, or in the ridges. Other shapes can only handle a very light sauce, like angel hair. So, yeah, the shapes have a reason. It's not just for a cool factor.
Let's make a hypothetical (or real) situation that I've never cooked my own pasta before. Now we'll go through the step-by-step process for cooking pasta, because I'd like to think I'm a little more interesting of a guide than WikiHow.
- Fill your pot halfway with water and put it on the stove. Turn the heat up high, cover it, and let it sit until it starts to boil. Sometimes it's nice to put a bit of olive oil with the water so that the pasta doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pot, and for an enhanced taste and smell while cooking.
- When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down and put the salt in (*** This is a trick I learned today! Wait until after the water boils to put the salt in!)
- Pour in your pasta so that it is fully engulfed by the water. If you have long noodles, let them slowly slide in when they're ready.
- Look at the recommended time on the package and set your timer to that. Watch your noodles as they cook and sample one or two along the way to find the way you like them. The general consensus amongst all the Italians was that they preferred their pasta Al Dente. To make the pasta this way, you cook it until just before the recommended cooking time.
- When finished, strain the pasta in a colander and get rid of that water!
6. At this point, you should probably have considered what you want to do with your dish. If you want to cook your pasta with a sauce or meat or veggies, it would be wise to cook that before you begin cooking the pasta itself. Make it in a pan, pour your pasta into that mix so it can take on the flavour of that and cook it over a low temperature flame. Otherwise, you're just as good to go with something simple. Nothing beats a simple olive oil, salt, pepper and cheese pasta (A.K.A the starving artist dish). Or try what my Danish friend does - fry up that drained pasta in some butter!
And if all goes wrong, there's always the local neighbourhood Italian restaurant.
Thank you to all my friends for guiding me in this endeavour. ☺