Spaghetti finds it way onto many restaurant menus however, most of the time its role remains to satisfy the kiddos. This isn’t the type of pasta we’re discussing here. Instead, we’ll focus on tips and tricks used by Italian joints that feature several dishes which follow the same basic practices.
Picking the right noodle
The pasta aisle can be daunting with shapes you never knew existed. And then you go to the refrigerated section of the store and there’s all these other types. Let’s take it down to two broad categories, shaped or stuffed.
Shaped pastas are spaghetti, fettucine, linguine and such. These are the ones you can shop for in the dry aisle. Sure, fresh linguine is slightly better than dried, but with a little technique you can get them both very enjoyable to eat.
Stuffed pasta is heads above superior in the cold section. Commonly these are ravioli of all shapes and sizes, and tortellini. Fillings are now so much more diverse than in days past. Grilled chicken, specific cheeses and added flavors wrapped in pastas colored with tomato, spinach, beet juice and even squid ink with more color than the dried variations.
Boiling is still the way to go
The commonality between fresh and dry pasta is that it needs to be cooked. The difference is cooking time, fresh is much less. Both need a good dollop of olive oil floating on the water, a tablespoon of salt and room in the pot to swim freely. Once you have a rolling boil carefully drop the pasta in for the stuffed varieties or small shaped dry noodles like macaroni, penne or orzo. For the long dry pasta fan out the noodles in your hand and swirl those into the boiling water, releasing a few at a time, giving them a better chance to separate out and not clump together.
With both types stir them at first until well separated, then stir occasionally keeping them at a soft boil. Whatever the packaging says for a cook time reduce it by one minute, or go with the al dente time if one is listed.
In the meantime
You want to have your sauce ready to go when the pasta is done cooking, so time things accordingly. Ready to go means at a simmer in a pan, or pot, that is large enough to accommodate all the sauce and all the noodles you are serving together.
Ladle out and keep in reserve a few ounces of the pasta water in a heat resistant measuring cup for fluid or a small pitcher. Drain the pasta in a colander and add to the warm sauce. Keep over a medium-low to medium heat, the goal being a light simmer of the sauce with the pasta in it for as much as five minutes. Some of your sauce is supposed to integrate in the pasta, this may cause the remaining sauce to get thicker. Use the reserved pasta water, which is rich in starch, to thin down to the consistency you desire.
To the plate!
By now your sauce should be well integrated with the pasta and it is time to serve. For the long noodles.
The pro tip is to use a pair of tongs, grab as close to your portion size as possible, and twist the noodles as you place them on the plate to create some height on the plate.
After dishing up for the plates, use a spoon to share the remaining sauce, if any, over the top of the pasta. Garnish with shaved cheese or chopped basil or parsley and serve it up.