Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy pasta for fun noodle time dinner

Dear Tricia, Is there an easy way to know when different types of pasta are 'al dente'? I tend to way overcook anything besides spaghetti.

First of all, let's talk vocabulary for the less-inclined-to-know-foreign-words people who are reading this. "Al dente" (pronounced like "den-tay") is Italian for "to the tooth" or "to the bite." That means you have to chew the pasta because it is firm enough to chew, but not hard. If you've never had this delightful pasta experience, then you've been suffering from what I like to call Mush Mouth. If you're not overcooking your spaghetti, than you don't have far to go until you're a pasta expert. Seriously, there's only about 600 different pasta shapes in the world, so 1 out of 600 ain't bad. It's a good jumping off point, at least.
It's easy to just tell you you're leaving the pasta in the water too long and to stop doing that. However, if you find yourself in a bind and you've overcooked the farfalle and its too late to start over and your girlfriend has showed up for the make-up dinner you promised her after your fight yesterday about you playing too much Halo, take the pasta, drain it, and dump it in a bowl of ice water. This stops the pasta from cooking further. It won't fix your pasta, but it'll help it from getting mushier.
Truthfully, you're probably boiling your water wrong to begin with. I promise I'm not trying to talking to you like you're stupid (I saved that for the first paragraph), but there is a very particular way to boil pasta water. First, you've got to get the water to a rolling boil: not just an impatient couple of bubbles at the bottom... let the water get seriously messy, like someone on "Girls Gone Wild." After its messy and rolling and you got it to put its shirt back on, add lots and lots of salt; enough so that you can taste the salt in the water. And only after the salt has dissolved, you can add the pasta. There are no exact times for how long to cook your pasta because the shape, size, and thickness will determine when they are al dente. The best way to learn is to not get distracted by your Halo game, and keep checking on the pasta by tasting it. When it is soft enough to chew, but still firm, its done. And remember, if you think you've gone too far, pour it into ice water. In fact, the first couple of times you practice, just go ahead and have that ice water ready. Only 599 varieties left until you're a pro!

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