A Guide to Perfect Pasta
From spaghetti to macaroni and angel hair, pasta can be found in the most expensive fine dining restaurants to your neighbhourhood cha chaan teng. Though it is very popular in Hong Kong, not many people know the correct way in serving this versatile ingredient. We give you some pointers and great recipes so you can make the perfect pasta dish at home.
Derived from the Italian word for 'paste', pasta is now a generic term for noodles made from unleavened dough of wheat or buckwheat flour and water, and sometimes with eggs or vegetable extracts. Pasta comes in myriad shapes and sizes including the ubiquitous spaghetti, pillow-like ravioli, jaunty farfalle (bow-tie), curious croxetti (small flat pasta coins with coats of arms) and the flower-shaped fiori.
Long thin pastas such as spaghetti and angel hair suit light, seafood sauces while flat shaped ribbon pastas like tagliatelle, fettucine and linguine combine well with creamy, buttery sauces which allows for more surface area for the sauce to cling to. Sauces with meat or vegetables would make suitable plate partners with the tube-shaped ragatoni or penne as these have holes that can hold the meat and vegetable pieces in the sauce. It is also easier to scoop the chunky sauce. These tube-shaped pastas are also great for baked dishes made with sauce and cheese.
When preparing pasta, bear these pointers in mind. Allow for about 500 g of pasta for four to six people. For spaghetti, that would be the amount that would fit between your thumb and index finger. And as an old Italian saying goes, the water you cook the pasta in must be as salty as seawater, so be generous with the salt as this allows the pasta to be seasoned internally when it absorbs the liquids and swells.
To ensure that the pasta does not stick together, stir the pasta in the first one or two minutes of cooking. Then to check that the pasta is cooked 'al dente' (Italian for 'to the tooth' or slightly springy in the centre), simply lift one strand out and bite into it. It should break with a little give. When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander but reserve some of the pasta water — the remaining starch in the pasta water will help thicken your pasta sauce.
Do not cover the pan with a lid or add oil to the water as it boils, as this would make the pasta oily and sauces would not adhere to it. Also, never rinse the pasta after cooking it since this washes off the slightly sticky starchy layer that is needed for the sauce to adhere to the pasta. You'll do well to prepare the sauce beforehand, so that when the pasta is done, all you need to do is toss it through the sauce, then ladle onto warmed plates and serve piping hot.
Pasta dough (makes 1.5kg)
500g plain flour
200g semolina flour
500g egg yolk
200g olive oil
1. Place all ingredients into the dough mixer and mix for 15 minutes.
2. Remove the dough and place onto a cool slab.
3. Continue to knead with hands till smooth.
4. Cover the dough and rest in the fridge for 6 hours.
5. Remove and make into required pasta shape.
Tagliolini with spicy sausages (serves four)
40g extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion , chopped finely
400g spicy sausages, sliced
100ml white wine
225g whole peeled tomatoes
Salt and sugar, to taste
440g tagliolini, cooked till al dente
1. Heat up pan with olive oil and add the yellow onions. Saute the onion till transparent.
2. Add the spicy sausages and continue to saute till fragrant. Add white wine to pan to deglaze, then add the whole peeled tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Season the sauce with salt and sugar, then add taglioni and toss well.
4. Remove from heat and divide into four plates and serve.
Spaghettoni Barillia with eggplant, Sicilian tomtatoes and buffalo mozzarella (serves four)
210ml Barilla extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
2 eggplant, cut one into cubes, and the other thinly sliced
350g Sicilian cherry tomatoes, quartered
salt, sugar and cracked black peppercorn, to taste
250g fresh basil leaves
440g spaghettoni Barilla (cooked according to package instructions)
150g buffalo mozzarella
1 tsp sea salt, to add to water for boiling pasta
1. To prepare tomato sauce, heat 110 ml Barilla extra virgin olive oil in a pan and saute half the garlic and all the shallots till brown.
2. Add cubed eggplant and Sicilian cherry tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes till soft. Season with salt, sugar and cracked black peppercorns. Set aside.
3. To make pesto sauce, blend the fresh basil leaves, remaining garlic, pinenuts and remaining Barilla extra virgin olive oil. Set aside.
4. To prepare pasta, cook pasta according to package instructions and add some sea salt for taste.
5. Drain pasta when al dente and add the pasta to the prepared tomato sauce. Heat the pasta and sauce for two minutes and toss well to coat the pasta with sauce.
6. Divide the pasta into four parts. Place 4 metal rings in a baking dish. Line the rings with the aubergine and spoon pasta into the rings.
7. Top with buffalo mozzarella and place in oven at 185°C and bake for 10 minutes to gratinate.
8. To plate, use a spoon and draw a line with the pesto sauce on each of the four plates. Place each of the gratinated pasta on the centre of the pesto sauce, remove metal rings and serve.
Excerpts from article "Pasta Pefect" printed in Appetite September 2011.