Yum! Ready for some pasta cooking tips?
Is there anything better than a steaming hot bowl of delicious pasta at the end of a long day? There are so many ways to prepare and serve pasta, it’s no wonder we never get tired of it.
Let’s celebrate this wonderful mainstay of our dinner tables with pasta cooking tips and information on the different types of pasta. We’ve also tossed in some fascinating facts about its origin.
The history of pasta
Pasta is a staple in countries across the world. Hailing from Italy, the versatile flour and egg dish is familiar on tables at home and at restaurants. But how much do you really know about pasta?
For such a well known and loved dish, pasta’s history is actually shrouded in mystery. Some accounts say that legendary explorer Marco Polo brought pasta back from his famous trip to China. As romantic as this story seems, it is actually likely this is a myth propagated by a Canadian spaghetti company in the 1920s or 30s. Other sources claim pasta found its way from Arabic culture to Italy. The earliest reference to pasta, however, comes from Greek mythology. The Greek god Hephaestus gets credit for creating a device to make strings of dough. The world’s first pasta maker!
Whatever the truth behind pasta’s origins, what is known is that by the 14th and 15th centuries, dried pasta was exceedingly popular. Easily stored for long journeys, pasta was a favourite amongst explorers setting sail for the New World. Before long, pasta spread from its Central Mediteranean origins all across the planet.
The history of pasta in Australia
For many years, pasta was best known in Australia in the form of tinned spaghetti. In fact, the Australian understanding of pasta was so vague that in 1957, a short hoax film by the BBC showing farmers harvesting ready-to-eat spaghetti from trees was widely believed.
In the years that followed, post-war Italian immigration to Australia increased. By the mid seventies, Australia had a thriving Italian-Australian population who brought their culinary knowledge with them. Italian restaurants sprang up in every suburb, leading to a higher demand for pasta in supermarkets. Pasta had found a new home.
Now, pasta is a standard in almost every home. Having lost its exotic nature, pasta is delicious, affordable and easy to find.
The different types of pasta (and what they’re good for)
Any quick glance at a supermarket shelf and you will be greeted with a baffling array of pasta options.
Depending on how you produce and shape pasta, it has a different name. One of the best known is, of course, spaghetti, but even that comes in multiple thicknesses.
According to wonderopolis.org, there are over 350 different types of pasta! Some cooks say thin pastas, such as angel hair, should be served with thin sauces, while thicker sauces work better with thicker, heavier pastas. People often pair flat pastas with cream sauces, while tomato sauces seem to cling better to round pastas.
Here’s a quick run-down of the most popular pasta shapes and their uses before we get to pasta cooking tips.
The long noodles of spaghetti are familiar to us all. Coming in a variety of thicknesses including angel hair and tubular, spaghetti is the go to for bolognese or meatballs. Spaghetti is easy to cook and great with tomato sauces or even as a side with some butter.
Spaghetti’s flat cousin, fettuccine is delicious with creamy and marinara sauces. The long, thick strands are perfect for soaking in the flavouring of your favourite sauces and they pair well with chicken as well.
These look like little bow-ties. With its small size, farfalle is great for pasta salads and pairs well with most sauces. The bows hold sauce well. Don’t be fooled by their small size though, each bow-tie is quite thick and they are very filling. One thing of interest about farfalle is the translation: instead of bow-ties, we should think of these as butterflies, which is what the word means in Italian.
Italian for ‘ear’. According to Wikipedia, these little shells are typically served with a meat such as pork, capers and a crisp white wine.
Broad and flat, pappardelle makes fettuccine look skinny. When cooked correctly, it is delicious with a drizzle of olive oil and some other ingredients like mushrooms, basil and bocconcini.
The delicious little tubes go well in most pasta dishes. They’re great in a salad or tossed with oil for a tasty side. Penne is available in a variety of flavours, with spinach being a popular choice.
Longer and flatter than spaghetti, linguine is perfect for seafood dishes. It pairs well with tomato sauces, particularly arrabbiata.
Shells are not only great for salads, they are the go-to choice for a cheesy pasta bake. Meaty or vegetarian pasta bakes are perfect with shells.
Cannelloni is a large, flat pasta rolled into large tubes. This type of pasta can be stuffed with the ingredients of your choice but generally spinach and ricotta are the top choice.
Another versatile pasta, fusilli, often called spirals or corkscrew pasta, is great in salads or stirred through meat.
These filled pasta pockets usually have something tantalising inside. From mushroom and ricotta to crab, veal or spinach, the options are endless.
Pasta cooking tips
Pasta is an easy dish to cook when you know how. Here are some top pasta cooking tips:
- Use a big pot with plenty of water: Pasta needs room to move as it cooks. Lots of water in a big pot will cook your pasta evenly and help keep it from sticking together. Any pasta not fully submerged will not cook at all so make sure all of your pasta is well covered.
- Add salt: Many chefs recommend you add salt to ‘season’ your water and enhance the flavour of the finished product. A tablespoon or more is a good amount.
- Make sure you have a full, rolling boil: Some suggest you don’t need to have your water fully boiling to cook your pasta. Most top chefs, including Gordon Ramsey, would disagree. Achieving good, rolling boil of your seasoned water before you add your pasta will cook it evenly.
- Stir and stir and stir!: To cook your pasta evenly so it won’t clump, keep it moving while it cooks.
- Check your pasta early: Start to check your pasta a few minutes before it is ready. Pasta can go from a fine al dente to a mushy mess very quickly. Checking early will make sure your pasta is cooked just how you like it.
- Drain and return to the pot: Drain your excess water and return your pasta to the warm pot to mix in your sauce of choice.
Follow these basic pasta cooking tips and you are guaranteed to make perfect pasta every time.
Myths about cooking pasta
There are a few myths about cooking pasta. Here are a few common misconceptions you will be surprised to find are untrue.
- Add oil to the water so the pasta doesn’t stick: This doesn’t work. It will stop the sauce and pasta from sticking but your pasta will still stick together. Forget about this old myth and stop wasting oil.
- Rinse pasta after cooking: This just isn’t really necessary unless you want to cool the pasta down for a salad.
- Fresh is better than dried: Fresh-made and dried pasta serve different purposes but neither is superior. Dried obviously lasts longer and is often cheaper so there is no need to buy fresh.
- You don’t need much extra water: Actually, extra water is helpful to keep your pasta from sticking together (since oil doesn;t work). The extra water also releases the starches to prevent the pasta from being ‘gluey’.
- If the pasta sticks to the wall, it is done: Most of us have probably given this a go because it is fun but unfortunately, it’s not really effective. Stick to the instructions on the packaging or better still, do a taste test.
How to make pasta from scratch
Not only are there dozens of brands selling even more types of pasta, you can even make your own pasta at home!
There are plenty of options online to show you how to make your own pasta but there are a few key ingredients you will usually need: fine Italian flour, semolina flour, eggs and olive oil. With these key ingredients and a simple recipe, you can make any kind of pasta you like.
Different pasta makers are available to help make the perfect pasta but it is also possible to cut shapes yourself.
Pasta cooking tips when making it from scratch:
- Leave plenty of time. Your dough will need to rest
- Clear a lot of space. You will need somewhere to put your pasta
- Use lots of flour or your dough will stick to the pasta maker
- Be patient! It can take a while to master rolling you dough thinly enough so the pasta slides through the machine
Top five pasta sauces and their ingredients
- Ragu: Ragu is meat based sauce served with pasta. You will be most familiar with Bolognese sauce, a variant from Bologna in Italy and Neapolitan from Naples. Ragus are delicious served with most kinds of pasta. They are generally tomato based but can be made with any variety of chopped vegetables.
- Marinara: Marinara is a simple, tomato based sauce with chopped herbs added for taste. Best with spaghetti, this simple sauce can suit penne or fettuccine as well. Seafood marinara is a staple of many Italian restaurants.
- Brown butter: Pasta is such a delicious dish. Simply browning butter in a saucepan and adding it to your pasta with a sprinkle of fresh parsley or some pepper is always a winner. Most pastas will benefit from some butter and can be served as a side or mixed in with another sauce.
- Pesto: Made from basil, garlic, olive oil, nuts, and cheese, pesto is great for pasta salads, pizza toppings and even fresh sandwiches.
- Alfredo: Cream and parmesan make for a great alternative from tomato based sauces. Along with a little butter, alfredo is great with most pastas, but is best with fettuccine.
How to get your pasta portions right
Pasta is usually easy to cook but there is one issue many people struggle with. Portion sizes. Because pasta changes size as it cooks, it’s all too easy to end up with enough pasta to feed a small army.
There are a couple of tricks to help you get it right. First of all, when it comes to smaller pasta like farfalle, fusilli, make sure to use a measuring cup. Most brands will give you a recommended portion size on the packet so pay attention to that. If you find the directions, don’t suit your preferences a little trial and error is in order. Simply jot down when you find the right size and stick to that from then on.
With long pasta like spaghetti, there are tools you can find to help. Many pasta servers actually have a hole in the centre. This isn’t just for draining water, it will also give you the portion size for a single serving. If you want to get exact, Barilla says that pasta should be two and a quarter inches around. The good news is you can always do something creative with your leftovers if you have too much!
Can’t stomach the wheat pasta is usually made from? Gluten free options abound and should be readily available in your supermarket. Brown rice pasta, quinoa pasta and pasta made from multigrains are all ways to enjoy your pasta dishes without the stomach upset.
You can also get creative with your veggie spiralizer. Create noodle-like pasta strands from zucchini, carrot or sweet potato. Lightly steam or boil them and you have a carb-free dish.
Come to Lantern Club for pasta
Now you know all about pasta, head to The Mazi Restaurant at the Lantern Club.
A delicious Chilli Prawn and Crab Spaghetti and an amazing Chicken Pappardelle Boscaiola are amongst the delectable pasta dishes available. Try our excellent meals in a warm and comfortable atmosphere and see how your new pasta cooking skills compare against a professional chef!