A favorite post from the archives, updated with a new recipe, photos and links.
One noodle, two noodles, red noodles, blue noodles.
Red sun-dried tomato ravioli. Blue curacao linguine from Giacomo Rizzo, our favorite pasta shop in Venice. Pasta shaped like sombreros, ear lobes, wagon wheels, stars, and corkscrews.
And the "long and stringies": linguine, capellini, fedelini, vermicelli, bucatini, spaghetti, spaghettini, spaghettoni.
Roll the names around on your tongue. You can almost taste the pasta.
You don't have to be Italian to love pasta, but you have to love pasta that's made in the Italian way, from durum semolina, semola di grano duro, the coarsely ground hard wheat, high in gluten, golden in color. The real thing. But if you cannot eat gluten, take heart; there are long and stringy pastas made from rice, corn and potatoes.
With pasta, shape matters. There are, according to Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating, something like 500 shapes of pasta. Each has a perfect mate, a sauce that clings but isn't clingy, that enhances and celebrates the pasta.
For the long and stringy pastas, choose a sauce that matches the thickness of the strands. For heavier shapes like spaghetti and linguine, go for something substantial, a basic marinara, meat, or cheese sauce, or olive oil/garlic/bread crumbs. Thinner pastas, like capellini (angel hair), can take more delicate sauces, often with seafood. Bucatini likes a bit of spice in a sauce that gets trapped inside the hollow tubes, surprising you with every bite.
To cook pasta properly (and there is a proper way), give it space, give it salt, give it heat, and give it flavor. First, bring many quarts of water to a full boil, at least one quart per quarter pound of pasta. No matter how much or how little pasta you're cooking, give the pasta -- and its starch -- plenty of room to swim. When the water boils, add a couple of tablespoons (yes, tablespoons) of sea salt. Add your pasta, give it a stir to make sure it's not sticking together or to the bottom of the pot, and bring it back to the boil. Stir every now and then.
(By the way, don't add oil to your pasta water. It will make the pasta slippery, and sauce won't be able to grab on to it.)
Two minutes before the end of the recommended cooking time on the package, start tasting the pasta. (If you're going to serve your pasta hot, with a sauce, it's best to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.) It should be just shy of al dente, tender outside and firm (but not raw) on the inside. Never, ever rinse the pasta unless you are planning to serve it cold; you'll wash away all of the lovely starch.
Store long and stringy pasta in your pantry for a year or more.
Pasta with clams and vegetable sauce
Serves 4 as a main dish.
1 lb linguine or spaghetti (I use dried pasta from the pantry)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1/2 large green pepper, diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1/2 lb button mushrooms, diced
2 6-oz cans chopped clams -- drain one and reserve the liquid from the other
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 Tbsp dried thyme
1 large pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano or asiago cheese, or more to taste
In a very large nonstick frying pan over low-medium heat, sauté onion, celery and pepper in 2 Tbsp olive oil, for 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and zucchini, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add clams and liquid from one can, stock, oregano and black pepper, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add tomato and mushrooms, and cook for 3 minutes or until vegetables are just beginning to get tender.
Drain the pasta and add it to the pan. Stir well to combine. Cook for an additional minute or two, until the vegetables are done.
If the sauce is not thick enough (the starch from the pasta usually will thicken the sauce nicely), at the last minute, add the arrowroot solution a few drops at a time right into the boiling liquid in the pan, and stir until mixture is desired thickness (stay right with it; this will happen very quickly, and you don't want it to turn to goo).
Transfer pasta to a platter, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve hot.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Linguine with tomato-olive sauce
One-one-one spaghetti sauce
Broccoli, basil and pasta salad
Pasta with chunky vegetable sauce
Chicken lo mein
Curried shrimp and pasta salad
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