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Herb perfect pasta!

Herb Snips

 

March 16, 2019

Edna McCallion

Pasta is formed into many different shapes from dough that combines flour, water and/or eggs. The Chinese and Italians have a 4,000-year-old tradition of making it. The culture that was first is a matter of continuing debate. While visiting these two countries I was assured that each was the originator. I think you will agree that the resulting products are more important than "who done it." We will explore the characteristics, varieties, uses and preparation of this ancient food. The importance of herbs and spices in pasta creations will be a part of this journey.

Italian pasta is generally made from durum wheat semolina flour while other manufacturers use different kinds of flours. This is important because the latter flours produce a softer product that can't be cooked aldente (Italian for "to the teeth", or not too soft), as can those made with the Italian flour. Since our budgets dictate what we buy, it is important to read labels and follow cooking directions on each package in order to have success with the different brands. Refer to the suggestions below for high altitude instructions.

Pasta is made in myriad sizes, shapes and flavors. The smaller sizes are perfect for soups and salads while the spaghetti, broad noodles and larger fanciful shapes are used in various main dishes. Most are cooked and drained prior to use but there are some exceptions. Once again it behooves us to read labels!

Serving that faultless bowl of sauced pasta requires more finesse than you might think. The best quality pasta may be a dismal failure if it is not cooked in an adequate amount of water. There must be enough water to dilute the starch that leaches out of pasta or it will act as glue causing a "sticky mass." Contrary to many older cookbooks it is no longer recommended that oil be added to the water because it prevents the sauce from coating the pasta. It has been discovered that it is the quantity of hot water and not the oil that keeps the pieces from sticking together. Transferring the cooked drained pasta back to the hot pot adding enough sauce to coat and a little of the reserved pasta water will stop the noodles from clumping.

Pasta is best measured by weight not volume because its shapes are so variable. One pound of dried pasta generally serves four to six people as a main course unless made more substantial by the addition of meat, fish, cheese or vegetables. The long stranded pastas are best paired with relatively smooth sauces while the molded shapes are easily eaten with chunky sauces.

The flavors, colors and nutrition of pasta are varied during processing by the addition of herbs, squid ink and vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms or peppers. Whole wheat and grain add nutrition to pastas but may cause them to become grainy, gummy and not as flavorful. Adding flavor is where herbs come into the picture and there are several ways to incorporate them. If you are making the pasta you can add chopped herbs before the rolling process. I like to add herbs to the cooking water because it provides uniform flavoring and you can eliminate or minimize salt. Most commonly they are incorporated in the various toppings.

Herbs and spices will distinguish any pasta dish you make. We see this in ethnic cooking where your palate has specific expectations. In Italian cookery we anticipate the taste of basil, oregano, rosemary and garlic. Mexican cuisine is highlighted by chilies, cilantro, cumin and marjoram. The French employ several unique blends in their kitchens. Herbes de Provence has lavender, marjoram, thyme and oregano in the mix... Bouquet garni has sage, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and, pepper corns. Thai dishes are highlighted by lemongrass, mint, and ginger. The Greek seasoning blend I make has 13 ingredients including cinnamon, parsley, mint, thyme and nutmeg. It is cheaper and best to make your own herb blends because the ready-made varieties often have msg, salt, cornstarch and corn soy protein added. My dear friend Sheryl recently said that she uses this blend in many dishes to take them up a notch. I put it in my vegetable egg drop soup one day and it was delicious.

Since the most important factor for a good cooking outcome with pasta is the quality of the wheat used in processing – buy the best you can afford. Follow the cooking directions below for perfect pasta with an eye to the individual package instructions. Take the Sheryl Bovi Pickard challenge and use herbs, spices and blends where unexpected. I was glad I did! Send your requests and suggestions to me at eamherb@sbcglobal.net.

Enjoy an herbally pastalicious month.

 
 

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