Monday, December 20, 2004

The Seven Deadly Sins of Pasta

Carbo Man is back, and Atkins be damned! (The diet, not the man; may the latter rest in peace.) Herewith, Carbo Man delivers himself of more of his culinary expertise. The following are the Seven Deadly Sins pertaining to the cooking and eating of pasta. Infractions may incur a visit from my New Joisey cousin Vinnie and his pals Smith and Wesson.

1. Using too small of a pot. A capacious pot is essential for the proper cooking of pasta. For most purposes I use an 8 quart pot. When I make my famous lasagne, however, out comes the monster 16 quart job.

2. Insufficient water. Be sure the pot is filled three-quarters full. With a big pot, there is little chance of a boil-over. But in case of the latter, a little olive oil added to the water will quell any uprising.

3. Adding the pasta before the water is boiling. Wifey once broke this rule. I instructed her to add the pasta when the water boiled. She claims she did, and that led to a discussion of the meaning of ‘boiling.’ I hereby lay it down that water is not boiling unless it is ROILING and JUMPING. To put it a bit more scientifically, pure water at sea-level is not boiling until it is at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Since our tap water is pretty good, I use it, not wanting to burden my reverse osmosis purification system.

4. Breaking the pasta before putting it in the pot. This criminal act is particularly repellent to the true connoiseur, and a sure sign of a pasta greenhorn. It defeats the whole purpose of the eating of (long) pasta, a tactile experience that requires the twirling of the strands around the fork, and, therefore, unbroken strands. Deadly sin #4 usually follows upon sin # 1, as drinking upon gambling.

5. Overcooking the pasta. Pasta must never be overcooked. It is to be prepared al dente. That’s Italian for to the tooth, meaning that the pasta should put up a bit of resistance to the tooth that bites into it. The pleasure of pasta consumption is largely tactile: the stuff by its lonesome does not have much taste.

6. Failing to properly drain the pasta before the addition of sauce. The result of this is a disgusting dilution of the sauce. Proper drainage requires the proper tool, the collander. Invest in a good one made of stainless steel. Plastic is for wimps. And if you try to drain pasta using the pot top, then you mark yourself as a bonehead of the first magnitude and may scald yourself in the process.

7. Chopping pasta on the plate. When I see people do this, I am tempted to make like al-Zarqawi and engage in an Islamo-fascist act. Let’s say you are eating capellini, ‘angel hair.’ (This is the quickest cooking of the long pastas.) There it is on the large white plate, richly sauced, anointed with a bit of extra virgin olive oil -- why buy any other kind? -- besprinkled with fresh hand-grated Romano, (not something out of a cardboard cylinder), artistically set off with a small amount of finely chopped parsley, and awaiting your attention. It is a thing of beauty. So what does a bonehad do? He starts chopping it up.

Learn how to do it right. Take some strands in the fork tines, twirl, and you should end up with a ball of pasta at the end of your fork. Practice makes perfect. Now enjoy the tactile delight along with a glass of Dago red.