Linguine? Angel hair? Fusili or Orzo? Trying to decide which pasta to pair with your sauce? Thin, delicate pastas, like angel hair, are best with light, thin sauces. Thicker pasta, like fettuccine or linguine, is great with heavier sauces. Short pastas with holes or ridges like rigatoni or fusili are great for chunky sauces. Short or long, thicker, sturdy pasta like penne and lasagna are best for baked pasta dishes. Small pasta like orzo or ditalini are perfect for soups.
Dried pasta is made of little more than semolina flour, water, and salt. With its long shelf life, it’s a great staple to keep on hand. Dried pasta has a firm texture and holds up to hearty sauces. Imported Italian pasta is easy to find and the flavor and consistency will take you back to that great little trattoria you enjoyed on your last Italian holiday (or weekend in little Italy). Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, has a delicate texture and is best with lighter sauces.
How much? When serving pasta as a main course, my rule of thumb is two ounces of dried pasta per person and a little less if I’m serving a hearty appetizer or lots of side dishes. If the pasta is an appetizer or side dish, I plan on no more than one ounce per person.
With fresh pasta, about three ounces will satisfy most people. If filled pasta, like tortelloni or ravioli, is on your menu, three and a half to four ounces per serving should do it. Of course, all of these measures go out the window if your dinner guests include a bunch of starving marathoners, teenagers or college students!
Avoid overcooking pasta. Italians enjoy their pasta al dente. Translated, to the tooth or to the bite, pasta should be firm but not hard. You can check to see if the pasta is ready by tasting it. The pasta should be a bit chewy but not crunchy. You can always entertain your guests and your kids by throwing spaghetti at the refrigerator. If it sticks it’s done, but please note, it will also stick if it is overcooked!
If you’re serving pasta with a sauce, drain and throw it back into the pot. Toss with enough sauce to coat but not drown the pasta, cover and cook over very low heat for one minute to absorb the sauce.
If you are serving pasta tossed with sautéed or roasted vegetables and/or chicken, meat or seafood, make sure you grab a cup of pasta water before you drain the pasta. Drain the pasta and throw it into the skillet with the sauce. If the pasta seems a dry, add pasta water a little bit at a time until the sauce reaches the right consistency and simmer on low for one minute to combine the flavors.
Enjoy cooking with pasta and buon appetito!
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