Category Archives: Food Experiments

Perfect Pasta Cooking

For some, cooking pasta perfectly becomes an ordeal. One frought with perspiration and needless worry. And maybe some frustration thrown around for good measure. Pasta is easy to learn how to cook perfectly, however. Once you learn how, you’ll ace it every time. Let the great folks over at Cook’s Illustrated show you how!

After the water comes to a full roiling boil, add salt (a generous 1 1/2 teaspoons per half pound of pasta; most of the salt will go down the drain with the cooking water) and then the pasta. Stir several times to separate the strands and, if necessary, bend long noodles with tongs to submerge them quickly.

Vinaigrette Pasta Salad

Pasta Salad & Fish by Pastarella Maker
Pasta Salad & Fish, a photo by Pastarella Maker on Flickr.

The other night I decided fish topped with black bean-corn salsa would be on that night’s dinner menu, but I only had a vague idea of what I’d use as sides to complete this meal. One of my ideas was to do a play on this Everyday Food Broccoli, Chickpea and Cherry Tomato salad since DH’s not fond of chickpeas. The other was going to be chunks of grilled baguette with rubbed garlic and lightly buttered. Nice, right?

Pasta Salad by Pastarella Maker
Pasta Salad, a photo by Pastarella Maker on Flickr.

By the time the end of yesterday rolled around, DH decided he needed to stay late so he was going to drop me off at home so I could hit the grocery store across the street before starting dinner. By the time I got going, I decided I would sub out the chickpeas for slices of cukes from my FIL’s garden. I prepped it all and stored it in the fridge to assemble once DH finally got home.

He worked longer than I thought, but was as it turns out, he arrived home five minutes before the fish was to come out of the oven, so I jumped up and started the dressing for the side salad and to prep the bread for the oven toasting.

In my haste, I forgot all about the cuke slices as well as the bread chunks all together. Whoops. Oh, well. This side salad turned out beautifully anyway with its lovely vinaigrette taste that made both of us think of summer time picnics where the coleslaw was a huge draw. So nostalgic. The meal, as it was, turned out to be so filling, the MIA bread chunks weren’t missed at all.

Since there is only two of us, and I had to use up all of my broccoli in one go, I ended up with a lot of leftover salad. Without missing a beat, I took out the bowl of cooked tubetti pasta from the fridge I was going to use in a casserole or frittata on the weekend, and made another batch of the dressing to create a gorgeous and very satisfying cold (or room temperature) summer pasta salad.

This will be a perfect companion to any other meat dish I make for dinner this long weekend, or simply on its own in a bowl for a quick, filling lunch. The fiber content in this one salad alone blows me away. So, if you need to bulk up your fiber intake for heath concerns, give this salad a go!

[Recipe via MSL’s Everyday Food]

  • 1 pound broccoli, separated into florets (4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar (I used white vinegar and it turned out nicely)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Wash the broccoli well, dry off and cut into florets and medallians as you cut up the stalks, taking care all of it will steam cook in the same amount of time. Finely dice up the red onion and place in big bowl to start the dressing. At this point, I added roughly the same amount of finely sliced red onion chunks to the salad for overall pleasing colour and texture. Cut the tomatoes in half and set aside till after the broccoli is done steaming.

In the bowl with the diced onion, add the other ingredients to make the dressing, whisking well the incorporate the oil with the Dijon and vinegar. When that’s blended well, add the broccoli and top with the tomato halves as well as the red onion slices. Toss all of this in the bowl and serve immediately, or at room temperature, or chill for use later as a cold side salad.

Some swap outs to the chickpeas if you’re not into them is tuna from a can, small pasta or cubes of any mild cheese. Really, you can play around and make this salad your own but adding more or stripping it down to just the broccoli. It’s your kitchen, it’s you’re choice, Chef. 🙂

Where is Pasta Girl hiding?

Well, I’ve been here off and on, but busy lately with gearing down from the holiday season, putting stuff away into storage, cleaning up the general mess that comes with Christmas presents and wrapping them up all pretty like, throwing stuff out, reading, beading, baking… the usual.

Also we’ve been dealing with birthdays (mine, DH’s mum’s, etc.), sick family members as well as a few family deaths. It’s been a bit weird around here lately, but hopefully when the FIL gets out of the hospital at the end of this week, things will start to settle down.

I have yet to read the lovely Marcella Hazan pasta book (Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) DH bought me for Christmas. I’m totally dying to dive into that one! In the meantime, I’ve been reading Brain Fuel instead. Almost done that one, as well as another he bought me for Christmas 2007 called Fire And Ice about the social differences between Canada and the USA that I’ve been reading on and off all year. (I don’t get many pockets of reading time. Can you tell? *snort*)

Anyway, I really want to blog about Marcella’s thoughts on pasta making and traditional Italian ricotta pie when I finally do get to read the book. Any great tips will be passed along to you, of course! In due time, kiddies, in due time. Promise.

Addendum: So, I went through my Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking book and there isn’t much mention about ricotta pie. There as a bit about using ricotta in cakes, but it was a mere passing comment – no recipes. Disappointing. Will have to seek out her other cookbooks in the future. As far as her thoughts on pasta making, she definitely prefers to make hers by hand, forks and rolling pin over a mixer and pasta rollers, but concedes both are standards and acceptable methods. The most important factor to her is that the pasta is homemade. She also has a great section on dried pasta and when it’s a better choice over its fresh counterpart, and a whole list of sauces to make and with what pasta. Fabulous! She included her father’s fish recipe that caught my eye, too. Interesting. Must try it sometime soon. This is a must have book for any serious budding Italian cook. I give it two thumbs up for the Cooks Illustrated inspired renderings of how to handle/prep/cook the ingredients, too. That alone makes this book worth its weight in gold in my eyes!

Homemade Raviolo

Like little birds nests, one egg yolk rests inside a nest of spinach, ricotta cheese, bacon, mozzarella cheese and salt, wrapped up in fresh homemade pasta sheets and gently placed in rolling water to cook for 2 minutes (for soft, runny centres).

Simple, tasty and somewhat fast once you have the pasta and nest filling made. Make a great appetizer or interesting breakfast choice. I would recommend this recipe.

raviolo-birdsnests.jpg

raviolo-assemblyline.jpg

raviolo.jpg

I used the leftover pasta dough I had from the homemade tortelloni I made the other day. It works nicely for this recipe as well.

Remember to send the sheets through the roller at their thinnest setting for at least three to five passes to make it as thin as possible. It won’t tear — trust me on this — but it will make for a great al dente pasta when doubled up and cooked for the right amount of time.