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It’s difficult to overstate pasta’s popularity around the world. In Italy the average person eats more than 57 pounds of pasta every year, and in the United States the amount is close to 20 pounds per year.* From such a simple combination of flour, water and sometimes egg, there are endless possibilities. And those infinite possibilities have given shape to some of the world’s most iconic dishes, from spaghetti and meatballs in America, to stir-fried chow fun in China, to all of the beautiful stuffed pastas in Italy.
Chef Steve Samson, of restaurants Rossoblu and Sotto in Los Angeles, debunks common pasta myths and unlocks the secrets of exceptional pasta. He said that when he was growing up, “My grandmother would roll pasta out every morning, and it would be served with lunch and dinner — twice a day!” Whether you’re an experienced pasta cook or just a wannabe, these unexpected discoveries just might change the way you look at your next plate of pasta.
MYTH #1: GOT GLUTEN ALLERGIES? NO NOODLES FOR YOU
Mom’s Place Pastas are delicious & actually taste like REAL pasta! Our Spaghetti & Lasagna Noodles hold together like they should! Our Fettuccine is delicious. Our Penne Rigate and Spirali are divine with our Beef Stroganoff and so simple to make. Our Rigatoni is the best you’ll ever try and don’t forget our Gluten Free Gnocchi Pasta combined with our Chicken Gnocchi Soup… wow! You’ll never miss gluten-filled, heavy-laden pasta again. Mom’s Place pastas are magnifique!
MYTH #2: EATING HEALTHY MEANS ELIMINATING PASTA
Why is pasta vilified in America as an unhealthy food but adored in Italy? According to Fred Plotkin, author of the “Authentic Pasta Book,” the problem in America is three-fold: “We overcook pasta, we serve it in immense portions and we oversauce it.” Samson agrees with Plotkin. He says, “I generally weigh out 80 to 90 grams of pasta per portion. Any more than that and I’m not going to have room to eat anything else!” In America, we speak of “sauce” when we discuss the liquid served on top of pasta, but in Italy it’s called “condimento”, which translates to condiment. So if you’re trying to be health-conscious, steer clear of that mountain of spaghetti drenched in sugary tomato sauce and covered in cheese and meatballs. Instead, have a reasonable portion of high-quality pasta with a purposeful and delicious condimento.
MYTH #3: YOU NEED A HUGE POT OF WATER TO COOK YOUR PASTA
Though it’s widely believed that pasta must be cooked in a large pot of rapidly boiling water, scientific research doesn’t back that up. There’s nothing inherently wrong with cooking pasta in a lot of boiling water, but it certainly isn’t efficient. Samson explains, “[How much water you need] all depends on the shape of the pasta. If you’re doing a dried noodle like penne, you can use less.” If you want to save some money on your gas or electric bill, try cooking pasta like J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats. “Put your pasta in cold water, bring it to a boil, then cover the pot and turn off the heat,” advises Lopez-Alt. He explains, "Your cooking time will remain the same and you’ll save yourself the energy bill.”
MYTH #4: ALWAYS ADD OIL TO THE COOKING LIQUID
If you were taught to add a splash of oil to the cooking water to prevent the pasta from sticking together, you’ve been misled. Samson says, “I don’t do it. It’s a waste of oil!” Because of the relative densities of water and oil, any oil added to the boiling pot will just collect at the top instead of coating the noodles. So how can you prevent the noodles from sticking together?
Pasta sticks when the surface starches gelatinize and bond together, and this happens during the early stages of cooking. So the only thing you need to do to prevent sticking is give the pasta a few good stirs after the first minute or two. Once the pasta is drained, a quick drizzle and toss will keep drained pasta from a post-cook clump, but that’s only if you plan on saving it to use for later. Otherwise, skip the oil and sauce it immediately!
MYTH #5: PASTA COOKING WATER IS WORTHLESS
Every knowledgeable chef and Italian grandma will advise you to save your pasta water — but why is it so important? Throughout the cooking process, pasta releases microscopic starch molecules into the boiling water, which is what causes the water to become opaque. And those starch molecules in solution are very useful. A splash of pasta water will help thicken any sauce, from tomato-based sauces to oil-based sauces. On a molecular level, you’re actually creating an emulsion in the pan, using the starch molecules to bind dissimilar ingredients (like oil and water) into a cohesive unit that will silkily coat your pasta.
Samson encourages cooks to “undercook your pasta just a little, and finish it in the sauce so the pasta releases some of its starch in the second pan and makes it more homogenous.” He adds that “a splash of pasta water will always help” bring the sauce together.
MYTH #6: PASTA SHAPES ARE RANDOMLY PAIRED WITH SAUCES
Though they may seem fanciful or random, pasta shapes are actually very precisely constructed. In many cases, noodles are the vehicle delivering sauce to your mouth. And since all sauces are a little bit different, it takes a unique vehicle for each one to be successful. Steve Samson says that, traditionally, “You want thinner pastas with seafood and thicker with meat sauces.” Long, thin noodles (spaghetti, linguine, etc.) are best served with lighter sauces (oil-based, cream or quick seafood sauces). Wider ribbons (tagliatelle, fettuccine, etc.) are perfectly constructed to transport heavier, meatier sauces like bolognese from the plate to your mouth. Twisting shapes (spiral, fusilli, gemelli, etc.) are great for smoother, thicker sauces like pesto because the ridges provide crevices for the sauce to hide in. Tubes (penne, rigatoni etc.) are terrific with cheesier sauces and also hold up well in baked dishes, while smaller shapes (orzo, fregola, orecchiette, etc.) are designed to float in soups and stews.
MYTH #7: EGG DOESN’T BELONG IN PASTA DOUGH
Sure, pasta dough can be made with nothing more than flour and water. But when it comes to achieving an ideal texture for handmade pasta dough, you’re likely going to need more than just water to hydrate the flour. According to Niki Achitoff-Gray of Serious Eats, if you make fresh pasta with just water and flour at home, it can turn out bland and gluey. But adding eggs solves a lot of problems. Achitoff-Gray explains, “Yolks contain about 48 percent water, 17 percent protein and around 33 percent fat. More yolks [in your dough] will deliver more color, more egg flavor and silkier noodles.”
The introduction of eggs has everything to do with geography and culture. The more eggs, the richer the pasta.
Bottom line--do what feels right for you and try a variety of options, making sure to pay attention to ingredients. We've taken out a lot of the guesswork for you with our IsiBisi, DeLallo & Gnocchi Pastas, so don't be afraid to try!