Pasta is a relatively simple meal to cook, but there are many variations on the classic versions. Pasta is also one of the few main dishes that can be made as simple or as elaborate as you want. With many different kinds of pasta shapes and different sauces, the combinations are practically endless.
First, you will need to decide what kind of pasta you'd like to make. There are pastas that are baked such as ziti or lasagna. Other pastas are served with the sauce already mixed in, and yet others are served with sauce over them. Different shaped pastas bring a different flavor and texture to the dish. Angel hair pasta and regular sized spaghetti are very similar, but the angel hair pasta will be much softer and can alter the flavor of the entire dish.
Pasta can be bought in a dried form in a box, fresh, or frozen. Dried pastas will lose more of their flavor and are more processed, but wheat versions are available. Basic pastas such as spaghetti noodles and lasagna noodles are just fine dried. For pastas with added ingredients such as spinach, cheese, or herbs, try to look for a fresh or frozen pasta. Frozen pasta tastes great, but fresh is always better if it is available. Raviolis and specialty pastas are available fresh or frozen. Pastas can be made with different herbs, vegetables, and cheeses to create unique flavors. These can bring a brand new flavor to your meal.
Just as there are many different types of pasta, there are also a large variety of sauces. The traditional red sauce is the most common. This can be a marinara with large chunks of vegetables. A meat sauce usually includes hamburger or ground sausage. There are also white sauces which are cream based and have melted cheese in the sauce.
Most recipes call for precooked pasta. All pasta types will have directions on the box for cooking the pasta. You will want to follow these directions for the best results. You will need a large pot with handles and a lid, a colander, and a slotted spoon. Determine how many servings you will want to make. Remember that dried pasta will absorb water, so it may look like it won't be enough, but it will increase in size. Fill your pot with the recommended amount of water and add about a half of a teaspoon of salt.
Bring the water to a rolling boil. This means the water will be in a full boil and not just a few bubbles. Add your pasta and stir. Set a timer for the amount recommended on the box. Avoid over cooking because it can cause the pasta to fall apart or stick together. Use the lid to cover to help keep the heat in the pan. Stir every minute or so to prevent it from sticking together. When the pasta is done cooking, drain in the sink with the colander. Most pastas can be gently and quickly rinsed unless the directions say otherwise.
If you are adding sauce to your pasta, you can place it back in the container of your choice and add the sauce. If you are serving the pasta and the sauce separately, you will want to add 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. If you are serving the pasta and the sauce separately, you will want to have the sauce done cooking at about the same time as the pasta so they are both warm. As cooked pasta sits, it can stick and get mushy. It's better to have your sauce sit for a few minutes while the pasta cooks than vice versa.
Pasta is a wonderful choice because it is so flexible. You can choose from a simple pasta with a simple sauce mixed in or a fresh, cheese and herb filled pasta baked with a delicate cheese sauce. What type of pasta and sauce you choose will depend on how elaborate you wish your meal to be. Pasta is best served with fresh bread or garlic toast and a salad. By learning how to make a great pasta dish, you can be sure that you can impress any dinner guest or date.
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