Sunday, 10 August 2014

10 dried pasta cooking tips and 3 seafood pasta recipes

Classic pasta dish: Spaghetti marinara.

Classic pasta dish: Spaghetti marinara.

Dried pasta is the modern kitchen’s go-to staple. Tossed with seafood, it’s an easy winner.

MOVE over pizza, pasta is the new universal food. Cooks everywhere are discovering its versatility and adaptability, and love the fact that with very little effort, you can whip up a tasty dish that – best of all – everyone loves.

There’s always a packet of dried pasta languishing in the store cupboard and with just a few ingredients – whatever’s at hand – you can have a real meal ready in minutes.

In pasta making at home, there really is no right or wrong. Like the ubiquitous fried rice stirred up in this part of the world, you need the main ingredient – leftover rice (in this case, dried pasta) – and the garnishing can be improvised.

I remember how my mother used to make very simple but really tasty pasta just by sautéing the cooked pasta in the greasy drippings of the chicken roasting pan with some garlic, herb, and seasoning, and voila, we have a side dish to go! Moms are champions at making the most of food scraps and leftovers that we professional chefs are sometimes lacking in.

There are the classic, time-tested and popular recipes like Carbonara and Spaghetti Bolognese, and then there is the food that you improvise at home – every mak cik and school canteen is dishing out Spag Bol these days, so let’s do another number.

Pasta shapes: (from left) Spaghetti, rigatoni and parpadelle

Use different pasta shapes other than spaghetti. The purist will tell you there are rules to matching pasta shapes to sauces but in your own kitchen, remember that you are the boss!

But I would venture that you start off with good quality pasta. After all, dried pasta is not an expensive ingredient and the price difference between a good and great pasta is not that much more. But one makes memorable pasta and the other is easily forgotten.

Personally, I look for durum wheat pasta with a rustic, handmade look – the unevenness and intended imperfections provide that subtle, lingering tension in the mouth that is more satisfying than perfect, slippery smooth, machined pasta.

And I would prefer to undercook the pasta slightly rather than overcook it – slightly undercooked pasta also has the advantage of having a lower glycemic index and therefore is better for your health and waistline!

To this effect, the process of stopping the cooking with cold water is a very important step, so do not take a shortcut here – the difference is perfectly al dente pasta, and soft, insipid noodles.

When pasta is intended as a one-dish meal as it often is in Malaysia, you can embellish it more. In Italy, pasta is often the second course and the garnishing tends to be very simple.

The seafood pastas here can feature as main meals, and the garnishing is really only a suggestion – you can easily replace scallop with prawn, mantis prawn, or even lobster. Remember, pasta is super adaptable. Let the cook’s ingenuity shine!

Dried pasta cooking tips

  1. Allow between 70g and 100g of dried pasta per person depending on whether you are serving it as a main meal or part of a meal.
  2. For every 100g of dried pasta, use 1 litre of water for cooking.
  3. Always bring the water to a rolling boil before adding the pasta to the pot.
  4. Generally, it is best to cook the pasta according to the packet instructions as each make – or shape – varies in its cooking time requirement.
  5. Start counting the time after the water has come to a boil and the pasta has been added to the pot.
  6. Keep the water on high boil throughout.
  7. Do not cover the pot during cooking as this will affect the cooking time and/or cause the water to boil over.
  8. After cooking for the specified time – do a taste test to check that it is cooked to your liking. The cooked pasta needs to be drained immediately and immersed in cold water to stop further cooking: tip it into a colander and run cold water over it, or immerse in iced water.
  9. If not using immediately, toss pasta with a little butter or olive oil to keep them from sticking together.
  10. Pasta should be “al dente” – firm to the bite. Or like a good wantan noodle; if it is like yellow noodle, you’ve overdone it.

Baked salmon and crab pasta
4-5 servings

300g elbow pasta (macaroni) or rigatoni

white sauce
25g butter
15g flour
150ml milk
100ml UHT cream
1 egg yolk
salt, pepper nutmeg to taste

50g butter
100g leek, sliced finely
100g celery, peeled and sliced thinly
200g salmon, diced
150g crab meat
2 tbsp chopped dill

200g emmental or mozzarella cheese, grated
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste


Cook the pasta to packet instructions.

For the white sauce

In a frying pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the mixture turns a whiter shade. Add the milk and cream, and bring to a boil over low heat. Season to taste. Stir in the egg yolk and remove from heat.

For the garnishing

In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat and cook the leek and celery until translucent. Remove from heat and set aside. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

To bake

Preheat the oven at 190°C. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, sauce, and garnishing. Mix well and tip into a buttered ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with the cheese and breadcrumbs, seasoning to taste. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Best served out of the oven.

Scallop, roasted red pepper and garlic pasta
4 servings

300g pasta such as tagliatelle, papardelle or fettucine
60ml olive oil
60g bacon (any kind)
12 large scallops
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cloves garlic, roasted
2 red bell peppers, roasted and sliced
salt, pepper and smoked paprika or chilli flakes to taste
chopped basil or flat-leaf parsley to taste

Cook the pasta to packet instructions.

In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the bacon. Remove bacon and add the scallops; sear over high heat until slightly browned on both sides, not more than a minute. Remove scallops.

In the remaining oil, sauté the garlic until aromatic. Add the pasta, roasted garlic and capsicum, and toss over high heat. Return the bacon and scallop to the pan, season to taste, add the herb, and toss well. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Note: To roast the peppers and garlic, toss them in olive oil and roast in a 180°C oven until soft.

Spaghetti marinara
4 servings

300g spaghetti or tagliatelle
3 tbsp olive oil
12 medium prawns, shelled and deveined
2 medium squids, cut into rings
12 mussels, with or without shell
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 pinch saffron threads (optional)
200g chunky tomato sauce
12 pitted Kalamata olives
parmesan, grated (optional)
sweet basil leaves, roughly torn or chopped

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.

In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over high heat and sear the prawns until lightly browned. Remove prawns.

In the remaining oil, sauté the mussels and squids until cooked. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the remaining oil, sauté the garlic, shallots, and saffron (if using) over low heat until aromatic but not browned.

Add the tomato sauce and olives, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add in seafood and pasta and toss well.

Serve sprinkled with the grated cheese and basil.

Tags / Keywords: seafood pasta


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