Nothing says "pantry" like dried pasta, and the shelves of The Perfect Pantry hold every imaginable shape and size. Welcome to Italian Pasta Week, Day Two, Strange and Twisty.
True confession: my favorite pastas are the ones I call Strange and Twisty.
It's the child in me.
If I can stab it with a fork, or grab it with chopsticks (yes, I eat the strange-and-twisty stuff with chopsticks, no matter what the origin of the sauce), I will love it forever.
Rotini (spirals). Gemelli (twists). Cavatappi (corkscrews) and radiatori (little radiators). Campanelle (bells) and conchiglie (shells). The very popular penne (quills), though they are neither strange nor twisty, also belong in this category, because they relate to sauce in the same way. These are the shapes that grab hold of pesto, tapenade, and seafood-, vegetable- and meat-based toppings, and won't let go.
Sauces for the strange-and-twisty pastas definitely do not have to be Italian; in our house, Ted and I love rotini with Asian spicy meat sauce. But the Italian repertoire provides endless variations.
The strange and twisty pastas are, I think, the most difficult to cook. In an instant, they go from al dente to all mushy. Undercooked, they can be tooth-breakers, but there is nothing more sad than to lift a S&T pasta from the pot and have it disintegrate because it's been cooked for too long.
Will adding oil to the cooking water keep the pasta from clumping or sticking to the pot? According to Alton Brown, no. In I'm Just Here for the Food, he writes:
It's as simple as this: pasta is dehydrated, so it wants to be around water, especially hot water, which due to added molecular motion penetrates faster than cold. So you've got a lot of water and a lot of pasta, then you add a tablespoon or two of oil. Considering how oil and water feel about each other, I'd say that Butch and Sundance had a better chance of making it out of the Bolivian bank than that oil has of getting to first base with pasta. What about during the draining, you say? By the time you get to the sink, most of the oil's back at the surface, so it's the first thing down the drain.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water (no oil) until it is not quite al dente. Drain but do not rinse, and add the pasta to your sauce to finish cooking. In this way, the pasta will still be looking to absorb liquid, and it will draw into itself the flavor of the sauce.
Then, grab a fork, and stab away.
Pasta with chunky vegetable sauce
One of those simple sauces that make a vegetable garden worth all the work. Cut all of the vegetables into chunks approximately the same size. This is a rustic dish that adapts well to any combination of vegetables, and doubles easily to accomodate more bounty from your garden. Serves 4.
1 lb strange and twisty pasta: rotini, cavatappi, penne, conchiglie
2 Tbsp sea salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 pound cremini or portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fresh basil, roughly torn
2 tsp fresh mint, leaves roughly torn
A pinch of red pepper flakes
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping
Bring 4-6 quarts of water to boil in a large stockpot. Add sea salt and pasta, and return to the boil. Continue to cook until two minutes less than the suggested time. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil. Add onion and celery and sauté briefly. Add next 7 ingredients and sauté until vegetables are just heated through. If desired, add red pepper flakes and black pepper, to taste. When the pasta is almost al dente, drain it and add to the vegetable sauce. Stir well to combine, and cook 2-3 minutes until the pasta is done. Top with cheese.
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