Pasta Tips and Techniques

Shopping Tips | Homemade Pasta Tips | Reheating Tips | Handling and Safety Tips
Checking Doneness | Light Tips | Cooking Tips

Shopping Tips:

  • When purchasing fresh pasta, it is important that you check for the expiration date to ensure that the pasta will be fresh when you are ready to use it.
  • If substituting a pasta shape, for best results, select a substitution that is similar in size and shape to the pasta called for in the recipe.
  • When purchasing eggs for homemade pasta, check the "sell by date" to ensure freshness and check your recipe to find out what size eggs it is calling for so that you purchase the required size.
  • When selecting dried pasta, check the package to see that semolina flour was used to ensure good quality pasta.
  • If purchasing fresh pasta in place of dried, you will have to purchase a larger quantity of fresh to equal the required amount of dried. Dried pasta approximately doubles in size when cooked and fresh increases very little.

Tips on Making Homemade Pasta:

  • Strengthen your homemade pasta dough by substituting ½ cup or less of semolina flour in place of an equal amount of all-purpose flour.
  • If using a processor to mix the dough, it will not need as much kneading as when it is mixed by hand.
  • If the pasta becomes sticky at any point while working with the dough, dust it lightly with flour. Also, dust the equipment you are working with, such as the rolling pin or the rollers in the pasta machine, to prevent the dough from sticking.
  • When putting pasta dough strips through a rolling machine to thin the dough, if the strips become long and hard to handle, cut the strips in half to make them easier to work with.
  • Allowing the pasta dough to dry for approximately 15 minutes before cutting will result in cleaner cuts.
  • Drying the cut pasta noodles or shapes for 15 minutes or more before cooking will allow the pasta to firm up a little and prevent the pasta from sticking together when cooking.
  • Save the trimmings when cutting pasta noodles or shapes, press the trimmings together, reroll, and cut additional noodles or shapes.
  • When making stuffed pasta, work as quickly as possible to prevent the pasta dough from drying out and becoming difficult to work with, and to prevent problems with the pasta sealing properly.

Pasta Reheating Tips:

  • When microwaving leftover pasta, heating individual serving size portions one at a time works better than trying to reheat several servings at once. The individual servings will heat more evenly.
  • Using a round or oval microwave safe dish for reheating in the microwave allows the pasta to reheat more evenly. A square cornered baking dish has a tendency to allow the corners to overcook.
  • When reheating lasagne in the oven, poke several small holes in the top of the lasagne and pour a small amount of milk over it and then cover the lasagne tightly with foil. Place in a 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling. The little bit of milk will help keep the lasagne moist.

Handling and Safety Tips:

  • Wash all work surfaces, utensils, and cutting boards with hot soapy water before and after working with the pasta dough. If working with egg pasta, periodically sanitize cutting boards with a bleaching solution consisting of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
  • Wash hands with hot soapy water before mixing, rolling and cutting the pasta dough.
  • If using a pasta machine, be sure to thoroughly clean all traces of pasta dough from the machine.
  • Be sure to properly refrigerate any fresh or homemade pasta that contains eggs.
  • Do not taste the dough of fresh or homemade egg pasta because the eggs cause the dough to be a potential risk for salmonella.
  • Do not try to break cellophane noodles up with your hands. The noodles have a tendency to break into sharp fragments that can injure your hands. Use a kitchen shears or chop the noodles with a cleaver if you need to break them into pieces.
  • If you are using chile peppers as a flavoring agent in your pasta or as an ingredient for your sauce, be sure to keep exposed hands away from the eye area and other sensitive areas of the body, such as nose and lips. The chile oil that your hands are exposed to can cause severe irritation. Wash hands immediately after exposure or wear rubber gloves to protect against exposure.

Tips for Checking Doneness:

  • When cooking dried pasta, begin to check for doneness 1 or 2 minutes before the minimum cooking time stated on the package.
  • Do not overcook pasta, cook the pasta to an "al dente" state, which is tender but still having a slight bite to it. Overcooking will cause the pasta to become mushy.
  • Undercook pasta that is to be used in dishes that require further cooking.
  • Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, start checking for doneness as soon as the pasta begins to rise to the surface of the water

Light Tips for Pasta Dishes:

  • Prepare dishes flavored with vegetables and herbs rather than meats and cream sauces.
  • When possible, use low-fat cheese, such as ricotta or cottage cheese in place of other cheeses.
  • Reduce the amount of cheese that is used on the top of baked dishes.
  • When making sauces that call for butter, replace it with olive oil.
  • When making a cream sauce, use skim or low-fat milk instead of cream.
  • In dishes that call for meat, reduce the amount of meat and increase some of the other ingredients that contain less fat, such as vegetables.

Cooking Tips:

  • When cooking fresh pasta, watch it very closely and test often for doneness because it cooks quickly.
  • To prevent the pasta from sticking together, be sure to use plenty of water and stir the pasta when first adding it to the boiling water.
  • To prevent soft, mushy pasta, do not allow the pasta to be in the water any longer than necessary by adding it only when the water is at a full boil and by keeping it at a steady boil throughout the cooking time.
  • Adding salt to the water when cooking pasta will help firm the pasta and bring out its flavor.
  • Add a tablespoon of oil to the water when cooking lasagne. Because lasagne noodles are long, wide and thick, they have a tendency to stick together when they cool. The oil in the cooking water will help to prevent them from sticking together.
  • Pasta should be cooked as close to serving time as possible because it cools down quite rapidly. Serve the pasta on a heated plate or in a heated bowl to help keep it warm.
  • To warm a large bowl for serving pasta, put the serving bowl in the sink and place the colander in it. When the pasta is done, pour it into the colander, allowing the hot water to drain into the bowl. Pull the colander out of the serving bowl and let the pasta drain. Empty the hot water from the serving bowl and pour the pasta into the warm bowl.
  • When cooking fresh or homemade pasta, be sure to have everything ready that you will need to prepare the pasta for serving, such as the colander in the sink, the sauce made and warmed bowls or plates ready to be filled. Fresh and homemade pasta cooks rapidly and having everything ready ahead of time will assist in serving warm pasta.
  • To bring pasta water to a boil more quickly, cover the pot with a lid while you are heating the water. Do not cover the pot while cooking the pasta.
  • When making lasagne, use the "no need to cook" lasagne noodles to save time.
  • To prevent pasta from boiling over, place a wooden spoon or fork across the top of the pot while the pasta is boiling.
  • When saucing the pasta, if the sauce seems a little dry, add a few tablespoons of the pasta's cooking water.
  • Don't worry about cooking too much pasta, the leftover pasta can be refrigerated and used later in other dishes, such as salads, casseroles or soups. It can also be reheated and eaten plain or with a sauce.
  • If combining different pastas, be sure to select shapes and sizes that are similar so that they will cook in the same amount of time.

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