Al Dente! A Beginner's Guide To Pasta
Spaghetti and Beyond...
String or strand-shaped pasta is made from sheets of pasta that have been rolled out very thin and cut into different widths, like fettuccine or pappardelle, or it is pushed through the small holes of a special machine to make pastas like spaghetti or capellini. String pastas are best used with light, smooth sauces that don't have large chunks in them. Then you are able to get both sauce and pasta in one bite without the larger bits sliding off. The best choice is a sauce that coats all of the pasta strands evenly and clings to them. This helps to keep the pasta strands from sticking to one another as they are eaten. These sauces can be as simple as olive oil and chopped garlic or more complex like Alfredo or pesto sauce. A general rule of thumb is, the thicker and heavier the pasta, the thicker and heavier the sauce can be.
Dried vs. Fresh Pasta
String pasta is sold both dried and fresh with advantages to both. Dried pasta can be stored indefinitely and when it is cooked it has a solid bite, a dense texture, and lends itself to well to hearty sauces. Dried pasta typically takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes to cook. Fresh pasta is very light and silky and cooks very quickly, often in 3-5 minutes. Fresh pasta is best with lighter sauces that do not overpower its delicate flavor and texture. Fresh pasta can only be stored for about a week in the refrigerator, but it also freezes quite well and in most cases does not need to be thawed before it is added to the boiling water.
Recipes for Success
String shaped pastas are either flat or round and are distinguished by the width of the cut for the flat or by thickness for the round. Some types of round pasta strands are hollow and some are solid. There are no standard rules for any type of pasta, however, so pastas with the same name can vary greatly depending on which brands are purchased.
For more detailed instructions on working with these delicious stringed pastas, check out the recipes to the right!
About the Author
After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.