Sunday, September 9, 2012

Quest 1.2: Cooking Pasta! Boiling Part Deux! know how sometimes you make pasta and end up with a big, nasty ball of gummy mess? This post is especially for our apprentices because I know this has happened to you before! And when pasta is gummy, it just doesn't taste as good. You need a certain amount of firmness for the consistency to be delicious.

There are few basic rules of thumb that you may not know. In this short post, we are going to cover all of them and you will never have gummy pasta again! So keep an eye out for tips in pink!

For this quest, we are focusing on the pasta. So just choose a jar of your favorite pasta sauce, pour it in a pan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer (remember what simmer looks like? Hint: it's NOT a boil!). In a later quest, I will be teaching you how to make your very own marinara sauce from scratch! And when you learn how to do that, you will never want to buy sauce in a jar again!

Step One: remember your last quest? Pick a pot, fill it a little over halfway with cold water and bring it to a REAL boil! Remember, when choosing your pot, keep in mind how much pasta you will be preparing. If you're only cooking for two, choose a smaller pot. If you're cooking for more, choose something larger. The Culinary Institute of America recommends one gallon of water per pound of pasta.

*Tip: Your water needs to be at a REAL boil because adding the pasta too soon is your first step to mushy, nasty pasta. The longer your pasta sits in water, soaking it in without actually cooking, the more the structure of the pasta will break down.  

 Step Two: Add your pasta and a dash of coarse salt. The ONLY opportunity you will have to infuse your pasta with a little flavor will be during the boiling process. Make sure all your past is submerged in the boiling water. If you're cooking spaghetti, break the strands in half. This doesn't effect your cooking time but it DOES ensure that your pasta is completely and evenly cooked.

Remember to set your timer according to the directions on the package (usually 7-9 minutes depending on the thickness of your pasta)! Kitchen timers are your friend. It's easy to get distracted in the kitchen or forget exactly what time you put something on to cook. So get on intimate terms with your kitchen timer...woo it...give it flowers and candy because you are going to be using it a LOT in the future.

Tip* People may tell you to add some extra virgin olive oil to your boiling water. Don't do it! What happens when you add oil to water, boys and girls? Remember being in elementary school and doing those little science projects with colored water and oil in a plastic bottle? You could tip the bottle back and forth and it makes waves...everything swirls around for a bit but then it just separates again, leaving the oil on top of the water. Adding olive oil is just a waste of perfectly good oil that will only go down the drain when you strain the pasta. 

Step Three: Stir, stir, stir! As soon as you add your pasta to the boiling water - STIR it! You don't have to stir it constantly, but make sure you return to it every couple of minutes. Pasta cooks relatively quickly. The starches start to react with each other and bond. If you don't stir your pasta, you'll end up with a great big clump. I like to use a wooden spoon or a heat resistant spatula with softer edges.

Step Four: When your timer sounds, QUICKLY test your pasta to see if it's done. Just grab a fork and taste a piece. If it is slightly firm to the bite and cooked all the way through (no crunchy spots), IMMEDIATELY drain your pasta in a colander over your kitchen sink.

MYTH: If you fling a piece of pasta onto the wall and it sticks, it's done. The only thing it proves is that you're gross and don't care if you attract bugs to your kitchen wall with the starchy residue left behind by your madcap pasta flinging. It doesn't actually prove your pasta is done. In fact, if it's that sticky, it proves your pasta is actually OVER-done.

Tip* It is VITAL that you immediately drain your pasta from the cooking water. In as little as one minute your pasta can go from done to over-cooked. Because even if you turn the burner off on your stove and let the pasta sit, the residual heat in the water is enough to continue cooking your pasta.

Step Five: DO NOT RINSE your pasta! Rinsing your pasta will wash away all those wonderful starches that cooked out of the noodles. That starchy coating is what lets pasta sauce bond to your noodles. Have you ever eaten spaghetti and watched the sauce actually slide off the noodles and pool on your plate in a sad, spicy puddle? Well, that's why, folks!

Now it's time to smother your perfectly cooked pasta in your favorite sauce and enjoy! YUM! 

Tip* Try to time the cooking of your pasta sauce to finish at the same time as your noodles. You need to add sauce as soon as possible to keep the pasta from cooling too quickly and sticking together. Usually starting your sauce at the same time you add your noodles to the boiling water will work well. 

An awesome resource to learn a little more about pasta is the National Pasta Association. There you will find a fantastic guide to pasta shapes which is incredibly useful when you're trying to figure out what shape you should use with what recipes. There are also tons of fun recipes, tips, diet and nutrition information.

Quest Points:

+10 Boiling
+ 5 Bonus for simmering sauce

Make sure you subscribe because next time Apprentices, we'll be caramelizing onions!

For the more advanced cooks and gaming nerds, I'll be posting another SPECIAL addition in the coming weeks to celebrate the release of the new World of Warcraft expansion, "Mists of Pandaria." So get ready for some WoW-themed Chinese er...Pandaren food!

So,  until next time, keep cooking. And remember, you can always find me on Twitter @8BitCook

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