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.
Dittalini. Cappellini. Rotini. Fettucine.
Roll the names around on your tongue, and 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.
Linguine, capellini, fedelini, vermicelli, spaghetti, spaghettini and spaghettoni — these pastas fall into what I call the Long and Stringy category, as do long, hollow shapes like bucatini and pici. 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 these 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 a taste. 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.
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.
Linguine with tomato-olive sauce
A medium-weight sauce that can be thickened with a dollop of tomato paste, if you wish. I like it a bit lighter, so the taste of the fennel comes through. Serves 6.
4 lb Roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into quarters
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp fresh oregano, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 can pitted large black olives (not Greek olives — too salty), sliced
Lots of fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1-1/2 lbs long and stringy pasta of your choice: linguine, spaghetti, etc.
2 Tbsp sea salt
Fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a stock pot, cook the tomatoes in olive oil over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add onion, fennel, garlic, bay leaf, oregano and wine, and cook uncovered for 30-45 minutes, until the tomatoes break down. Add the olives and black pepper, and continue cooking for 15-30 minutes more until the sauce has reduced to desired thickness. At the same time as you add the olives, bring 6-8 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large stockpot. Add 2 Tbsp sea salt, and the pasta. Cook for 7-8 minutes, and taste. When the pasta is almost al dente, drain and add to the tomato sauce along with any water that clings to the pasta. Stir, add a scant 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, and cook until the pasta and sauce have married, 2-3 minutes. Serve hot, with grated cheese.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.