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Pasta 101

An A to Z guide to choosing, storing, preparing, and cooking fresh produce and recipe ingredients.

  • Common Varieties
    Angel Hair

    Very fine, delicate strands.

    Cooking time: 3 to 5 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce.

    Ideal sauces: Light tomato, olive oil, cream, butter, seafood.

     

    Elbow Macaroni

    Short, C-shaped tubes.

    Cooking time: 6 to 8 minutes.

    Best for: Baked dishes, salads, soups.

    Ideal sauces: Cheese, butter.

     

    Farfalle (Bow Ties)

    Pinched in the middle to look like bow ties. (The Italian word farfalle means “butterflies.”)

    Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce, salads.

    Ideal sauces: Cheese, olive oil, butter.

     

    Fettuccine

    Spaghetti-length, flat egg noodles about ¼ inch wide. (The name translates as “little ribbons.”)

    Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce.

    Ideal sauces: Meat, cream, cheese.

     

    Fusilli, Rotini

    Spirals about 1½ inches long. (Fusilli means “little spindles.” Rotini means “twists” or “spirals.”)

    Cooking time: 8 to 10 minutes.

    Best for: Baked dishes, salads.

    Ideal sauces: Tomato, pesto, seafood.

     

    Jumbo Shells

    Large shell shapes, with a ridged exterior and a big, open cavity.

    Cooking time: 11 to 13 minutes.

    Best for: Stuffing, baked dishes.

    Ideal sauces: Tomato, cream.

     

    Linguine

    Spaghetti-length, flat noodles about 1/8 inch wide. (The word means “little tongues.”)

    Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce.

    Ideal sauces: Tomato, pesto, olive oil, seafood.

     

    Orecchiette

    Small concave disk shapes. (The name means “little ears.”)

    Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce.

    Ideal sauces: Meat, cream, seafood.

     

    Orzo

    Pasta in the shape of rice (or barley, from which it gets its name).

    Cooking time: 9 to 11 minutes.

    Best for: Salads, soups.

    Ideal sauces: Light tomato, olive oil, vinaigrette.

     

    Pappardelle

    Flat, long noodles about 5/8 inch long. (The name supposedly means “gulp down.”)

    Cooking time: 7 to 10 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce.

    Ideal sauces: Tomato, meat, vegetable.

     

    Penne

    Small tubes 2 to 4 inches long cut on the diagonal, with or without ridges. (The name means “quills” or “feathers.”)

    Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce.

    Ideal sauces: Chunky tomato, meat, vegetable, cream.

     

    Rigatoni

    Tubes about 1½ inches long and ¾ inch in diameter, with ridges. (The name means “large grooves” or “large stripes.”)

    Cooking time: 11 to 13 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce, baked dishes.

    Ideal sauces: Chunky meat or vegetable, cream, cheese.

     

    Shells

    Small shell shapes with an open cavity.

    Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

    Best for: Baked dishes, salads.

    Ideal sauces: Tomato, meat, vegetable, cream, cheese, vinaigrette.

     

    Spaghetti

    Thin, round strands about 10 inches long.

    Cooking time: 9 to 11 minutes.

    Best for: Tossing with sauce.

    Ideal sauces: Tomato, pesto, meat, seafood.

     

    Ziti

    Medium-width tubes 2 or more inches long. (The name derives words for “bride” or “bridegroom.”)

    Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.

    Best for: Baked dishes.

    Ideal sauces: Light tomato, olive oil, cream, cheese.

  • How to Store Pasta
    Store dried pasta in a cool, dry place for up to 2 years; keep it in an airtight container once opened.

    Keep store-bought fresh pasta in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 1 month.

    Refrigerate cooked pasta in an airtight container for up to 5 days, stored separately from sauce if possible. Pasta dishes can be frozen for up to 3 months, depending on the other ingredients (baked dishes, like lasagna, freeze best); for best results, freeze the dish before cooking and cook after thawing.

    How to Prepare
    Get separate, tender strands every time by following these directions.

    • Use a large pot (one that holds at least 7 quarts for a pound of pasta) so the water returns to a boil quickly after you add the pasta. The water will come to a boil faster with a lighter pot than with a heavy stockpot.

    • Salt the water once it comes to a boil. (Add salt earlier and it could pit an aluminum pot.) The seasoning will give the pasta an essential flavor boost. For every pound of pasta, figure on 2 tablespoons of salt and 6 quarts of water.

    • Stir the pasta with a pasta fork or tongs right after you add it to the water and then occasionally throughout the cooking time to prevent clumping. This is much more effective than adding oil; plus, oil prevents the sauce from coating the pasta and makes cleanup a greasy proposition.

    • Use long pastas (spaghetti, linguine, fettucine) whole rather than breaking to fit the pot. Let the ends stick out until the submerged sections soften (less than a minute), then stir to bend the pasta and push it under the water.

    • Test for doneness about 1 minute before the time given on the package instructions. Dried pasta should be cooked through but still firm to the bite. (If it sticks to the wall, it’s already overdone, so skip your sister’s noodle-tossing method.) Fresh pasta will rise to the surface when it’s ready. It should be chewy and have a uniform color throughout.

    • Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid before draining, to add to sauces for seasoning and body.

    • Serve the pasta without rinsing, which would cool it and eliminate the flavorful starch that helps the sauce adhere.

  • How To: Cook Pasta

    Does it seem as if your pasta always comes out too sticky, too hard, too mushy? Let this video be your guide to cooking pasta perfectly.

     

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