. . . cooking recipes, cookery, food, cooking vacations  


SpaghettiWhat's the proper way to cook pasta?Slinging a string of spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks is probably not the most effective way to check for doneness. Neither is relying on your kitchen timer. The best way to see if your pasta is ready to eat is to spear a piece of it while it's still boiling and taste it. There should be a slight crunchiness on your tooth, called al dente, when the pasta is ready.

Bring 5 - 6 quarts water of water to a rolling boil. Add 1/4 cup of salt along with a pound of your favorite pasta. Stir to ensure that all pasta is in the water and that the pieces are separated. Cook 7 - 8 minutes for long cuts like spaghetti, 8 - 10 minutes for short cuts like penne. A minute or two before your pasta is supposed to be ready, remove a piece of pasta from the water and bite through the pasta to see if it's done. Keep tasting until the pasta is al dente. When it's ready, drain the pasta in a colander and serve immediately with your favorite sauce.

There are a staggering number of pasta cuts in Italy - hundreds of them. Most of them are named for the shapes they resemble. Some seem to have significance only to the regions that named them. A few of them were created specifically for a particular type of sauce.

Amore - Corkscrew-like twists with a hole in the middle.

Bucatini - Hollow, spaghetti-like strands.

Cavatelli - A short, folded pasta typical of Puglia.

Cavaturi - A narrow, folded cut typical of Puglia.

Conchiglie - Small, ridged "seashells."

Conchigliette - "Tiny seashells."

Farfalle - Literally "butterfly." Also known as bowtie pasta.

Fusilli - "Spirals" or corkscrew-shaped twists.

Fusilli Bucati - Thick corkscrew-like twists with a hole in the middle.

Gnocchi Romani - Small, ridged seashells.

Lingue di Pasero - Lingue means "tongue." This flat, wide pasta is similar to fettucine.

Maccheroni - Ridged, slightly rounded tubes.

Maccheroncini - Similar to maccheroni, but narrower and cut into short pieces.

Orecchiette - Literally "little ears."

Pappardelle - A wide egg noodle. One of the few traditional pasta shapes from Tuscany.

Penne - Tubular pasta cut at an angle to look like quill pens.

Penne Rigate - Penne with rigate, "ridges."

Pennette - A smaller version of penne.

Pipe - Small U-shaped pipes.

Rigatoni - Large, ridged tubes with square-cut ends.

Sedani - Ridged, slightly bent tubes.

Spaghetti - Literally "a length of cord."

Strozzapreti - Small squares of pasta folded like an S, literally meaning "priest stranglers".

Tagliarini - A flat, wide pasta similar to fettucine.

Tagliatelle - Classic thin egg noodle from Emilia-Romagna.

Tofe - Medium sized seashells.

Trenette - Long, flat pasta sometimes called linguine.

Tubetti Rigati - Tiny, ridged tubes.

Vermicelli - Like spaghetti, but slightly thicker.

Which pasta cuts go best with which sauces?
There are no hard and fast rules about which cuts match which sauces. If you're partial to a particular cut, you should toss it with whatever sauce you like. There are, however, some cuts that show off a sauce better than others.

  • Vegetable Sauces:
    If you have a chunky vegetable sauce, look for pasta cuts with lots of nooks and crannies or deep crevices to catch and hold the vegetables.
    fusilli, orecchiette, conchiglie.

  • Cheese Sauces:
    Cheese sauces adhere best to small pastas cuts with lots of surface area.
    fusilli, farfalle, maccheroni, penne, shells.

  • Butter Sauces:
    Noodles just beg for butter. A little bit of sauce goes a long way to coat them evenly.
    linguine, fettucine.

  • Oil-Based Sauces:
    Pesto, and other oil-based sauces, are just right for keeping long, thin cuts from clumping together. They also coat noodles more evenly than they would smaller pasta with lots of crevices.
    bucatini, spaghetti, trenette.

  • Meat sauce:
    Two completely different pasta cuts are commonly used with meat ragu. In Northern Italy, wide, fresh egg noodles are traditionally paired with meat sauce, while in Southern Italy small cuts of dried pasta are used. Neither will steer you wrong.
    maccheroni, fusilli, pappardelle, tagliatelle.

  • Soups:
    Nearly any small cut will pair deliciously with soup. The size you choose all depends on how many pieces of pasta you prefer in each spoonful.
    tubetti, maccheroncini.

What’s the difference between fresh pasta and dried pasta?
Many people assume dried pasta is just fresh pasta that’s been set out to dry. Although it certainly seems reasonable to think so, it’s not the case. Fresh pasta, which is traditionally made in Northern and Central Italy, is almost always made with eggs. Eggs are highly perishable, so fresh pasta must be eaten within a few days of its preparation.

Dried pasta, a Southern Italian trademark, almost never contains eggs. Because it’s usually just semolina flour, water and salt, dried pasta can last almost indefinitely without refrigeration.

Fresh pasta can be made with a wide variety of flours, including semolina flour (a derivative of durum wheat), chestnut flour and wheat flour. But it’s most often made with the more delicate bread flour, which is easier to roll and shape by hand. Dried pasta, on the other hand, depends on semolina flour almost exclusively. When mixed with water, coarse semolina flour forms a tough dough that’s more often forced through perforated dies than shaped by hand.

This item was contributed by Shirley Cline from San Fransisco.

Shirley was a great inspiration when I first started working on the idea of creating a recipe and cooking web site. Not only did she encourage me but she also supplied a great many recipes and other pieces which are featured throughout the site. Her great achievement was to teach me to cook risotto over the internet!

Although I never had the chance to meet Shirley, or even talk to her, I regarded her as a good friend. It was with great sadness that I learnt that she passed away in Autumn 2004 and that there would be no more emails. I think she will be sadly missed by a lot of people like me to whom she gave such pleasure with the sharing or her recipes. The pleasure my children have had from her recipe for Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar and Mint - not to mention the fights for seconds - has been a joy to behold.