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Penne for your thoughts; navigating the pasta aisle

March 1, 2016

The pasta aisle is a maze of choices. I mostly gravitate toward the same few types during my weekly shopping trip. A box of linguini, bag of elbows, frozen tortellini… you know the list. Did you know there are about 600 different types and shapes of pasta? For most people, Italian pastas are interchangeable, but traditional Italian cooking holds a true method to selection of noodles!


Each pasta’s form and texture play a role in sauce pairings. Sauces may be thick or thin, cold or warm, hearty or light. The sturdier noodles stand up to a heavy cream-based or meat sauce with the delicate types complimenting oil-based dishes. For the Sutton Central dinner table attendees, these noodles are efficient delivery systems for healthy foods which are often paired with pasta entrees like vegetables, cheese, tomato sauce, poultry and beef. Pasta is a low fat food and a good source of folic acid, iron and numerous other nutrients, making it an ideal food as part of a healthy diet for children.


The National Pasta Association notes that refined (or processed) grains have seen their share of negative news with regard to carbohydrates. They suggest that nutrition experts routinely recommend a balance of both whole and enriched grains to ensure a nutritionally-complete diet that provides essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. One cup of cooked spaghetti provides about 200 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, less than one gram of total fat, no cholesterol and only one gram of sodium when cooked without salt. Pasta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, the body’s primary fuel for energy and is an important part of a healthy diet. It also contains several essential nutrients, including iron, folic acid and several B vitamins. Some pasta is also enriched, which means extra vitamins and minerals are added to it, to provide an extra nutritional boost.



So be creative with your choice of noodle to make a delicious and nutritious pasta entrée for dinner tonight!


Spaghetti Carbonara
One of the original Italian recipes with a couple of small modifications. The additional bacon makes this a nutritional entrée that pairs well with a light green salad.
1 lb. thin spaghetti
16 oz. thick-cut bacon
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 c. half-and-half cream
Fill a large pot of water to boil pasta. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 12 minutes; transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Salt boiling water generously; add pasta and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan and half-and-half. Set aside. Drain pasta, leaving some water clinging to it. Working quickly, add hot pasta to egg mixture. Add bacon; season with salt and pepper, and toss all to combine (heat from pasta will cook eggs). Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese.


Source: National Pasta Association

Q. How do you cook pasta perfectly every time?
A. 1. Boil four to six quarts of water for one pound of dry pasta. You can divide this recipe depending on how much pasta you are cooking.
2. Add the pasta with a stir and return the water to a boil. Add salt to boiling water.
3. Stir the pasta occasionally during cooking.
4. Follow the package directions for cooking times. If the pasta is to be used as part of a dish that requires further cooking, undercook the pasta by 1/3 of the cooking time specified on the package.
5. Taste the pasta to determine if it is done. Perfectly cooked pasta should be “al dente,” or firm to the bite, yet cooked through.
6. Drain pasta immediately and follow the rest of the recipe.


Q. How is pasta made?
A. 1. Mixing
American dry pasta is made with semolina, which is produced by grinding kernels of durum wheat. Sometimes other hard wheats are also used. The semolina is mixed with water until it forms a dough. If any other ingredients are being added to the pasta, such as eggs to make egg noodles, or spinach or tomato to make red or green colored pasta, those ingredients are added at this stage.

2. Extruding
The dough is kneaded until it reaches the correct consistency, and then it is pushed, or extruded, through a die, a metal disc with holes in it. The size and shape of the holes in the die determine what the shape of the pasta will be. For instance, dies with round or oval holes will produce solid, long shapes of pasta, such as spaghetti. When the extruded pasta reaches the right length, it is cut with sharp blades that rotate beneath the die.

3. Drying
The pasta is then sent through large dryers, which circulate hot, moist air to slowly dry the pasta. Because different pasta shapes vary in degrees of thickness, they dry for different lengths of time. Most take 5 or 6 hours to dry.

4. Packing
The dried pasta is then packed in bags or boxes. Some of the more fragile pasta shapes, such as lasagna and manicotti, are often packed by hand to protect them from breaking.


Q. How should I store pasta?
A. Uncooked Pasta
Store uncooked, dry pasta in your cupboard for up to one year. Keep in a cool, dry place. Follow the “first-in, first-out” rule: Use up packages you’ve had the longest before opening new packages.

Cooked Pasta
Refrigerate cooked pasta in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. You may add a little oil (1-2 tsp. for each pound of cooked pasta) to help keep it from sticking. Because cooked pasta will continue to absorb flavors and oils from sauces, store cooked pasta separately from sauce.

Freezing Pasta
The best pasta shapes for freezing are those that are used in baked recipes, such as: lasagna, jumbo shells, ziti and manicotti. You’ll have better results if you prepare the recipe and freeze it before baking. To bake, thaw the dish to room temperature and bake as the recipe directs.

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