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Pasta Tips

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fresh pasta or dried pasta, which is best? The pros and cons of each have inspired plenty of culinary controversy.

The key to making a decision between the two is in matching the pasta to the sauce.

Most aficionados agree that dried pasta is denser and chewier in texture than the fresh variety, making it the perfect choice for thicker, meat and vegetable-laden sauces. The softer texture of fresh pasta pairs well with simple uncooked fresh tomato sauces, delicate cream sauces and herb-flavored oils. Fresh or dried, pasta should be cooked al dente (Italian for "firm to the tooth").

Dried pasta generally comes with suggested cooking times on the package. If you are using a timer, set it for the minimum cooking time suggested and ALWAYS do a "chew-test" a few times during the cooking process to test for doneness. Once the pasta has reached the "al dente stage" remove the cooking pot immediately from the heat source and drain immediately.

Fresh pasta takes considerably less time to cook than dried. It is best to test it frequently---and not get too far from the pot while it's cooking.

Tips for Cooking Pasta:

Whether it's dried or fresh pasta you're cooking, you'll need lots of salted water to cook it in, about 5 quarts for each pound of pasta, along with a very large cooking pot.

Always bring the water to a rapid boil before adding the pasta. To help the water to come to a boil more quickly, cover the pot with a lid.

Some cooks add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to the cooking water because it is said to not only keep the pasta from sticking together but helps to avoid boil-overs. I do know that a wooden spoon laid across the top of the pot can help prevent boil-overs...from personal experience.

Be sure to stir the pasta immediately after adding it to the water and several times during cooking to keep it from sticking together and forming a clumpy mass. Stirring often also assures even cooking.

Always drain pasta thoroughly, otherwise your favorite sauce may become diluted by the excess cooking water. On the other hand, it's wise to reserve a cup or two of the cooking water just in case your sauced-and-tossed pasta appears to dry or thick. A little hot cooking water can help remedy the problem.

Rinse pasta only if it is to be used cold such as in a salad. Quality pasta made of 100 percent durum wheat does not need to be rinsed before use. Rinsing only serves to cool the pasta, which as Martha might say, is not a good thing.

Don't fuss about cooking just the right amount of pasta. Go ahead and cook the whole package, any unused portion of cooked pasta can be used for lunch or dinner later in the week. Leftover pasta can be used in soups, salads and casseroles. Adding it to a stir-fry will make it a lo mein dish. For a twist on pizza, heat oil in a frying pan and fry the cooked pasta into a crisp, flattened disk to use as a pizza crust and then layer with your favorite toppings.

How the pasta is sauced is more a personal preference thing than a requirement. Whether you toss the pasta with the sauce first and then serve it or ladle the sauce atop a plate full of naked noodles, it's up to you. Serve it the way you like--not how someone else says you should.

Here are a few delicious pasta recipes to try:

Article and photograph by Hope Cantil. Copyright © Hope Cantil; property of

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