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Pasta and Rice

Ten Steps to Perfect Pasta

by Skip Lombardi  

I'm amazed at how often I get e-mail from a disgruntled home cook, lamenting the fact that, once again, a dish of pasta has turned into a culinary disaster. I hear stories of overcooked, undercooked, tasteless pasta that may also be stuck together, or otherwise inedible. In fact, I recently had the experience where I was shopping with a friend and I suggested that she buy some pasta. Her response was that it was too unpredictable to cook.

It needn't be that way. First of all, 90% of cooking is being there. That is, letting the telephone ring through to voice-mail; perhaps leaving guests in the living room sipping their Chardonnay and simply keeping your focus on the task at hand. And by being there-that is, tending the pasta-you'll be able to do the only test available to judge its doneness: to taste.

Those two tips alone will improve your pasta-cooking skills, but I offer here, ten little steps that, taken together, will guarantee a perfect dish of pasta every time. Follow these steps, and you'll prepare pasta that will consistently impress your family, your friends, and your harshest critic; you.

1. All pasta is not created equal. Choose a brand with a solid reputation in the marketplace. De Cecco and Barilla are two fine brands readily available in supermarkets.

2. Use a pot that's large enough to accommodate the pasta without crowding. For one pound of pasta, an eight-quart pot is good; a ten- quart pot is better. Pasta needs room to move freely as it cooks. At a minimum, use nothing smaller than a six-quart pot.

3. Use plenty of water. For one pound of pasta, you should use at least six quarts of water.

4. Add salt to the water. About 1 Tbs. per gallon. Salt adds flavor to the pasta that helps to create a well-seasoned dish. Often, a perfectly seasoned sauce will still taste like it needs "something" because the pasta is unseasoned.

5. Bring the water to a full, rolling boil before adding the pasta. One of the prime causes for pasta sticking together is that the water had not yet come to a full boil. When you add pasta to water that has not yet reached the boiling point, it releases natural starches, which act like glue. Since the pasta is simply sitting in the water at the time, the strands stick together.

6. Bring the water back to the boil as quickly as possible after adding the pasta. In the case of pasta strands, like spaghetti or linguine, stir the pasta until it has wilted and become submerged in the cooking water, then cover the pot until the water returns to the boil. When the water has boiled, though, uncover the pot, and finish cooking uncovered.

7. Stir the pasta two or three times throughout the cooking process. Pasta cooks in eight to ten minutes. The brief time you spend attending to it away from family or guests will reap huge rewards at the dinner table.

8. Never add olive oil to the pasta cooking water. The olive oil coats the pasta, and prevents sauce from adhering to it when you've put the entire dish together.

9. Cook the pasta to the 'al dente' state. The only way to judge this is by tasting. Manufacturer's cooking times are mere guidelines. Begin tasting the pasta about two minutes before the manufacturer says it should be done. Also, there will be a small amount of carryover cooking between the time you remove the pasta from the stove, drain in the sink, and combine with the sauce.

10. Never rinse pasta. When you rinse pasta, you're washing away most of the starches and nutrients that you were seeking to enjoy in the first place.

So be there. Be attentive. Taste, and learn when pasta has cooked to the consistency that you like. Follow these ten little steps, and you'll develop a reputation as a miracle worker with pasta. And with the myriad of sauces in the Italian and Italian-American cuisines, you will have expanded your cooking repertoire beyond your wildest dreams.

Skip Lombardi is the author of two cookbooks: "La Cucina dei Poveri: Recipes from my Sicilian Grandparents," and "Almost Italian: Recipes from America's Little Italys." He has been a Broadway musician, high- school math teacher, software engineer, and a fledgeling blogger. But he has never let any of those pursuits get in the way of his passion for cooking and eating. Visit his Web site to learn more about his cookbooks. http://www.skiplombardi.com

Pasta Primivera
1 Medium green pepper
4 oz package frozen snow peas
1 small zucchini
1 cup broccoli flowerlets
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 T margarine
2 oz sliced pepperoni
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
8 oz cooked fettucine
Fresh parsley, minced
Microwave vegetables in bowl with a little bit of water for 5-7 minutes.  Drain.  Add salt and butter.  Toss with meat, cream and cheese.  Add pasta and parsley.  Toss to mix and coat.

7 ounces of small pasta shells, uncooked
      1   cup         cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
      1   cup         ripe olives, sliced in half
      1   block       (6 ounces) of mozzarella cheese, cut into thin  
      4   ounces      of salami, cut into thin strips
      1/2 cup         bell pepper, chopped
      4               green onions, chopped
      1/3 cup         vegetable oil
      3   tablespoons cider or red wine vinegar
      1   teaspoon    salt
      1   teaspoon    dried basil
      1   teaspoon    dried oregano
      1/4 teaspoon    garlic powder

Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Drain
and rinse in cold water. Place in a large bowl and add
tomatoes, olives, mozzarella cheese, salami, bell pepper
and onions. Combine vegetable oil, cider or red wine vinegar,
salt, basil, oregano and garlic powder in a small bowl, mix
well. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 1

Yield: 8-10 servings
Rice Pilaf

Makes 6 servings (1/2 cup each)

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon Tobasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup uncooked short-grain brown rice
1 1/2 cups Chicken Broth or canned broth
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

In a nonstick skillet, heat olive oil. Add garlic and onion, and saute
for 6-8 minutes or until onionis tender. Spoon into a thee 3 qt.
saucepan. Add chicken broth, rice, dry mustard and Tobasco.
Heat to boiling, stirring once or twice. Reduce heat, cover and steam
for 20 minutes or until rice is tender and broth is absorbed. Add
parsley. Toss

Fettucine Carbonara
1/2 # Bacon
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 beaten eggs
1 # fettucine cooked
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 T parsley
Cook bacon until crisp.  Drain and crumble.
Heat cream to warm, Beat in eggs.  Toss together with pasta and bacon.  Add Cheese and parsley.  Toss
Serves 6

2 pkgs. (2 lbs.) meat tortellini
1 pt. heavy cream
1/4 lb. unsalted butter
1/4 lb. fresh grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 tsp. basil
1/4 tsp. thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 lb. Italian sausage

Remove sausage from skin and crumble up. Saute' in butter, garlic, salt and pepper, basil, thyme, oregano. Add the cooked tortellini to the meat mixture. Add 1/2 to 3/4 pint of the heavy cream. Heat for 15 minutes then add the Parmesan cheese. Transfer the mixture into a casserole dish and bake
at 325 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.
Baked Macaroni and Four Cheeses

4 cups Elbow macaroni - uncooked
1/4 cup Butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp. Dry mustard(optional)
1 tsp. Salt
Ground pepper to season
1 cup Mozzarella cheese, diced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. Paprika

Cook macaroni according to package directions and drain. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a two quart
casserole dish. Melt butter in a saucepan; stir in flour and sauté
for 30 seconds or so. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to a slow boil; cook, stirring until sauce thickens.
Add provolone, cheddar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir until cheese melts on very low heat. Combine sauce and cooked macaroni. Stir in Mozzarella cheese. Turn into buttered casserole. Top with Parmesan cheese and sprinkle with paprika. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until bubbly and top is browned. Serve with a lighter meat such as grilled
or baked chicken and a fresh salad.

Rice Casserole
1 package chopped frozen brocolli
1 cup Minute Rice
1 small can water chestnuts, sliced
1 8 oz jar Cheez Whiz
1 can Cream of Chicken Soup
1/2 - 3/4 Cup Milk
3 T. margarine
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup diced celery
Mix all ingredients.  Bake 350* 40 minutes until hot and bubbly
Anna's Lasagna
1# ground beef
3 1/2 cup (32oz.) spaghetti sauce
1 1/2 cup water
16 oz. cottage cheese
12 oz. shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated cheese
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. pepper
tsp. salt
8 oz. uncooked las. noodles
Brown beef. Add sauce and water. Simmer. Combine remaining ingredients. Layer in 13x9 pan.......Sauce, noodles, 1 1/2 cup sauce, 1/2 cheese mixture, sauce, noodles, 1 1/2 cup sauce, 1/2 cheese mixture. Top layer: noodles then remainder of sauce. Cover with foil, bake 350* 60 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 10 minutes longer.
Creamy Ham n Bowties
8 oz. bowties
1 cup frozen peas
8oz. diced ham
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
Cook pasta. Add peas last few minutes. Add ham. Drain. Return to pan. In small bowl combine cr. cheese and milk. Beat. Stir into hot pasta. cook 1-2 minutes
Spaghetti Sauce

1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 med onion chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb spicy Italian sausage
1 14.5 oz can Del Monte flavored diced tomatoes,
Basil, garlic and oregano
1 14.5 oz can Contadina flavored diced tomatoes,
Roasted garlic
1 small can tomato paste
4 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the
minced garlic and sauté for 30-45 seconds - DO NOT LET THE GARLIC TURN
BROWN!  Immediately add sausage and sauté until cooked all the way.
Throw in the 2 cans of diced tomatoes and turn the heat down to med-hi
heat and bring to a simmer.  Reconstitute the tomato paste in the
water and add to the pot. Taste sauce and season with Salt and pepper.
Simmer uncovered until it cooks down about 30-40 minutes, or until it
reaches the thickness you like and cook an entire 16 oz package of
Linguini to go with it
Triple Cheesy Macaroni

2 cups macaroni; cooked, drained
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup cooked ham, cubed
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder
2-3 Tbsp. flour
1/2 cup milk

Combine all ingredients, except macaroni, in medium-large sauce pan.  Heat over low heat until cheese is completely melted and mixture is mostly smooth. Pour cooked macaroni into casserole dish. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir to coat.   Cover; bake at 350F for 20 minutes. Uncover, bake an addtional 15
minutes or until top is lightly browned.