Pasta is one of the staples of the American diet, but it need not taste like a staple. It is so much more than just grabbing a jar of generic sauce at the store, boiling some water and mixing it all up in a bowl. There are subtle secrets in every step of the process, from choosing the sauce, boiling the water, and plating the finished meal that can take an everyday dull meal and turn it into a gourmet dining experience. Here are a few tips for making the perfect pasta:
Choosing the Pasta — If you want a great pasta experience, choose a variety of pasta that receives the sauce and spices well. Thinner more delicate shapes should pair with lighter thinner sauces. Pick pasta made from durum wheat and a slightly rougher pasta or shaped pasta holds the sauce better.
Choosing the Sauce — Good marinara is made primarily from tomatoes, not tomato paste. If your sauce ingredients list paste, water or sugar as the first ingredient, then you need to put the jar down slowly and back away from it. Some sauces make a better base so don’t be afraid to doctor it with meat, cheese, or fresh veggies. Also, to keep your pasta love life interesting, experiment with different flavors of sauce (tomato cream, butternut, wild mushroom, etc.).
Boiling the Pasta — Use plenty of water, add salt to it, and never put dry pasta in the water until it has reached a rolling boil. Stir occasionally and, once the pasta nears the minimum cooking time on the package start tasting it. Take the pasta out when it is al dente or a little firm. The pasta will continue to cook a little after you take it out.
Heating the Sauce – For an even more flavorful pasta dish take the pasta out of the water a few minutes early and let it finish cooking in the sauce.
Plating the Pasta — When you strain the pasta, do not run water over the pasta unless you are making a cold pasta salad. Make sure to strain really well as nobody likes watery pasta. Place a ladle of sauce at the bottom of your serving bowl before dumping the cooked pasta in. Then, ladle generous amounts of sauce into the bowl, and toss the pasta so the sauce is evenly distributed. Then you can add extra sauce to each plate according to your dinner guests’ taste. You might want to garnish each plate with some fresh basil or even parsley. Freshly grated Parmesan or Parmesan Reggiano is a great touch and tasty.
Preparing the Bread — The bread is important, because at the end of the meal, a good textured bread can be used to soak up the excess sauce in the plate. To make the most of the bread, bake it for 6-8 minutes at 350 degrees. This will make for toasty nooks and crannies that will capture the sauce in your plate without letting the bread go limp or soggy. Garlic bread can also be a delicious alternative.
_________________________________________________________About Dave Hirschkop: Dave’s Gourmet (www.davesgourmet.com) is the result of Dave owning and managing a small restaurant near the University of Maryland, which taught him a lot about preparing food and satisfying customers. He uses that experience with Dave’s Gourmet, which after 18 years has grown into a maker of more than 70 award-winning gourmet food products.