Wisconsin is very far away from the beautiful warm climate of Italy. In fact, if I could sprout wings and fly, it would still be approximately 5,000 miles. Little did the Italians know they would be creating perfect pasta dishes for Midwesterners. Living in the land of frozen everything for 6 months out of the year, we need foods that will warm us up from the inside out and pasta does just that.
Pasta is not like your typical meat and potatoes dinners that you either toss on the grill or slow cook in the oven for hours on end. With pasta, you have to put your mind to it if you want a dish that really stands out. Pasta demands our attention, leaving not much room for error.
Creating outstanding pasta dishes that everyone loves can be easy and quick. After mastering the art of cooking pasta, you can easily move on to learning to cook a variety of pasta sauces.
Cooking pasta can be tricky.
Here are a few guidelines to have perfect pasta every time:
· Cook past in large amounts of boiling water. Using to of little water can cool down the water when you add the pasta, causing your pasta to stick together.
· Don’t forget to add the salt to your cooking water. Salt helps flavor the pasta. Unsalted pasta can make the sauce taste bland.
· Add the salt after the water has begun to boil. Adding it before hand will cause the water to take longer to boil. This brings new meaning to the old saying, “a watched pot never boils”
· Over cooking pasta results in mushy noodles. Cooking pasta al dente means that the pasta is still firm but not hard. Most boxed pasta cooking times are accurate. If adding pasta to a baked pasta dish, remember to under cook the pasta slightly because it will continue to cook as it bakes in the oven.
· When the pasta is done cooking, drain and coat with either butter, oil, or better yet, add a small amount of pasta sauce to the drained pasta to help prevent the pasta from sticking together.
*When adding meats like hamburger or ground turkey, take the time to seriously (literally) brown the meat, not only is gray meat unattractive, but it can be flavorless too. Then add the pasta sauce to the pan drained of the hamburger grease. Use the sauce to scrap up the little bits of browned meat frond, doing this will help add a meaty flavor to your sauce. I allow my sauces with meat to simmer carefully on a low setting for about an hour. This helps the hamburger become super tender and lets the seasonings set the flavor of the sauce.
When cooking any tomato based pasta sauce, you can choose to add the meat or not, by not adding it, you will have a great vegetarian dish.
Basic Tomato Sauce for Spaghetti
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion chopped fine
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 cup full bodied red wine like Chianti or a Cabaret Sauvignon
1 ½ tsp of Italian seasoning
1 tsp dry basil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 -28 oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain liquid)
1 -28 oz can tomato sauce
1 -4 oz can tomato paste
1 lb ground beef (or venison, buffalo, pheasant or even bear)browned (optional) see note above*
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
In a large fry pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 additional minute. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 8-10 minutes. Add the rest of ingredients (follow above instructions for browned ground meat, if adding) and simmer on low for about an hour, stirring frequently.
Serve over angel hair pasta cooked al dente and tossed with a small amount of the sauce. Top with the fresh chopped basil and serve immediately.