Fast food doesn’t necessary have to mean a bag of burgers and fries. If you’re in a crunch for time turn to pasta. From start to finish most pastas can be cooked, sauced and served in less than 30 minutes.
“ It’s doesn’t take long to cook pasta but you have to cook it right,” said Michael Viviano, owner of Viviano’s Festa Italiano. “The secret to making good pasta is easy - don’t over cook it. It has to be al dente, which means it’s a little firm on the inside and a little soft on the outside.”
Cooking times will vary depending on the pasta cut (shape). Pasta made with whole-wheat will take longer to cook than traditional pasta produced from semolina flour. No matter the cut or flour type, pasta producers recommend using 2 quarts of water to boil a half-pound of pasta in a large enough pan as to cook without crowding.
Season the cooking water with salt. Generally speaking, for every quart of water use a tablespoon of kosher salt, the preferred salt. The best time to add the salt is when the water comes to the boil - salted water takes longer to boil. If the pasta is going to be served with a rich sauce the amount of salt should be reduced by half, especially since richer cream sauces have cheese, which have a higher salt content.
To check whether the pasta is cooked properly taste it or look at it. Don’t rely on the cooking times printed on the pasta package. Test for doneness a few minutes before the package recommends. To test cut or break pasta in half and have a look inside - if the pasta is still a bit white on the inside then it’s not ready. Instead the center should look more cream colored with a firm texture.
After reaching the al dente stage Viviano says he cools down pasta with ice water to stop it from cooking after its drained. “ I toss it with a little olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. You can use vegetable oil but I’m Italian and I have olive oil in my veins so I use olive oil.”
Pasta shapes and pasta recipes are as varied as the Italian countryside. In Italy there are over 150 different kinds of cuts of which about 50 are found in the US. Among the most popular during fall and winter are the soup pastas as orzo, found in Italian Wedding Soup. Orecchiette, sometimes referred to as little ears, is a saucer shaped small pasta that’s become trendy with bistro chefs. Try using orecchiette for pasta con broccoli or tossed with a simple tomato sauce.
After walking the pasta section at Viviano’s or any grocery it’s easy to get inspired to cook more pasta. The following recipes are those based on the the classic pastas, Italian ingredients and the menu items available at Viviano’s Festa Italiano and other groceries that specialize in Italian foods.