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Pasta 102

Like husbands and stilettos, not all noodles are created equally. Learn how to pick top-quality pasta and give it some sauce.

Photo: Photo courtesy of Whole Foods

Pasta Types Decoded
Semolina Durum Wheat The best pastas are often made from semolina durum wheat, a hard, coarse-ground wheat that gives the pasta its firmness and elasticity. Its rough texture also allows sauce to cling better. (Yes, this is one case where being clingy is good.)
Egg Noodles Made from durum wheat, water, and a certain amount of egg solids, this pasta is more delicate and smooth.
Whole Wheat These noodles have twice the fiber of regular pasta, a slightly nutty flavor, and stickier texture.

Fresh vs Dried
Fresh It cooks quicker (from 3 to 5 minutes) and is more tender and absorbent than dried. It pairs well with sauces made with herbs, oil, and cream.
Dried With a shelf life of about three years, it cooks in 5 to 12 minutes. The hearty texture primes it for chunkier sauces.

Cooking Tips
H20 hint Use at least one gallon (four quarts) of water per pound of pasta to prevent sticking, and season the water with three teaspoons of salt per pound of pasta.
Hike up the heat Add the noodles after the water has reached a rapid boil (otherwise the pasta will be soggy) and let it cook, uncovered, according to package directions. Stir to separate noodles.
Reserve Keep a half-cup of the pasta water; you can add it sparingly to your sauce to help it spread evenly through the pasta.
Drain Pour out the remaining boiling water when your pasta is al dente. This term means “to the tooth,” and describes the perfect texture of cooked pasta, which has a slight resistance to the bite. Don’t worry if its texture is a little chewy; pasta will continue to cook in the sauce.
Don’t rinse It removes starches that give texture to the pasta and make sauce stick.

Sauce Glossary
Alfredo Made with Parmesan, butter, and heavy cream, this sauce gained fame in Rome through restaurateur Alfredo di Leilo.
Bolognese Its origin is Bologna. While recipes vary, most include beef, pancetta, cream, white wine, tomato sauce, olive oil, and finely chopped carrots, celery, and onions.
Carbonara Its name comes from Carbone, which means “coal” in Italian. It is made with cream, eggs, Parmesan and Pecorino cheese, pancetta, black pepper, and peas.
Puttanesca This sauce’s moniker was born in Naples and has a racy translation: “what a whore would make.” It may also refer to the spiciness of the ingredients, which typically consist of a mix of olives, tomatoes, capers, anchovies, and garlic.

Noodle 411
Means: priests’ hats
Pairs with: browned butter sauce

Means: shells
Pairs with: simple tomato sauce

Means: butterflies
Pairs with: vegetable-based sauce

Means: corkscrews
Pairs with: hearty, thick sauces

Means: twins
Pairs with: pesto

Means: lilies
Pairs with: hearty meat sauces

Means: little tongues
Pairs with: oily clam or shrimp sauce

Means: little ears
Pairs with: broccoli rabe and sausage

Means: to gobble up
Pairs with: hearty meat sauces

Means: quills
Pairs with: puttanesca sauce

-- Colleen Rush

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