Making Better Pasta

As I work on my “what I did wrong” posts in the background (I’m using them for my horticulture class term paper, so won’t post them until they’re graded to make sure I don’t post anything incorrect), fresh tomato season is more or less over. I still have some ripening on my counter so I can eat them for a few more weeks before I have to do grocery store or greenhouse grown tomatoes for the winter.

This post is kind of unrelated to gardening, but it’s still tomato focused, and it’s about a couple of ingredients that more or less changed my life recently, so I wanted to share. If you like pasta with tomato-based sauce, you will either already know about this or you’re about to improve your pasta game… a LOT.

I was extremely lucky to get to go to Italy twice on my grad student conference schedule. When I brought pasta home, I noticed that it had a fairly rough texture – much different from the smooth noodles I was used to buying. I read soon after that this is why one should always buy higher-quality Italian pasta, because they use bronze extruders that create a rough texture which helps the noodles to absorb more sauce. There’s also something else going on with legitimate Italian pasta, a je ne sais quoi (or I guess I should say non so cosa) that just makes the whole dish taste better – it might be a bit more dense than its North American made counterpart, which would explain the longer cooking time.

Notice the rough texture?

The excellent news here too is that higher quality Italian pasta is not particularly expensive. 500g of La Molisana pasta sells for under $2.50 at Superstore in Saskatoon!

If you have good pasta, you also don’t want to waste it on bad sauce. Once you run out of your own frozen/canned/etc. sauce, might I suggest trying a bottle of passata instead of canned tomatoes. Passata is simply strained tomatoes, another Italian ingredient that a can of crushed tomatoes or Prego sauce doesn’t hold a candle to. Again, a bottle is only about $2. It’s thick and ultra-flavourful and the first time we used a bottle to make spaghetti sauce we could not stop raving. It tastes so good that you could probably get by without adding any other seasonings.

The final life changing trick I learned is how to put this all together. For years, I would make sauce in one pot, spaghetti in another, transfer both pots to the kitchen table, putting sauce on top of naked spaghetti on my plate and attempting to mix the two. Friends, this is a fool’s errand.

Instead, cook the pasta to about 1 minute away from done. Turn off the heat. Take a mug full of pasta water out of the pasta pot. Drain the pasta. Add the mug of water AND pasta to the pot of sauce. Simmer the pasta in the sauce until it’s done cooking – this begins to absorb the sauce into the pasta and transforms the dish into something very cohesive. (It also took me a long time to realize that this is what recipes meant when they said to add pasta water to sauce so the sauce would stick to the pasta better.)

I’m getting hungry as I write this post – it’s probably easy to guess what my supper plans are…

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