Now caregiver222 is NOT a gourmet cook. The number of things I can cook properly can be counted on fingers. But my mom taught me a few things that have stuck.
Pasta seems to be something that everyone knows how to cook. I thought so. But I visited an elderly couple and watched as they started with hot water and poured just enough water over the pasta to cover it. Well, a bit more.
I have learned a lot from Rachel Ray and the cooking shows.
My little 104 year old has not been able to eat pasta, for the last year. The pieces, even when cooked softly, are too difficult for her. But I like pasta.
So here are my pasta tips.
You need proper cooking utensils. These include
(1) A very large stainless steel pot holding lots of water for the pasta. NEVER AN ALUMINUM POT. Another stainless steel pot for the sauce.
(2) A collander. A big stainless steel bowl perforated with holes.
(3) A slotted spoon or a tiny strainer with a LONG handle.
(4) Pure water
(5) Salt (I prefer sea salt).
(7) mittons or potholders (2) so you won't but yourself moving the pot.
(8) A large bowl sufficient to contain all the pasta you cook (generally it should hold a pound). I prefer glass.
(9) Extra-virgin olive oil and/or organic butter.
(10) A pepper grinder.
These are the basis rules I was taught.
(1) Let the tap water RUN for at least a minute. I did a test study of bacteria and contaminents in water and the reduction in bad things after a minute is incredible.
(2) Always start with COLD water. NEVER hot from the faucett.
(3) Rinse the pot thoroughly and scrub with non-soap steel wool. If the pot has the smallest amount of soap in it it will spoil the pasta.
(4) The key to making good pasta is to use PLENTY of water. Quarts of it. The more water the better.
(5) Fill the pot to an inch and a half of the top and bring to a ROLLING BOIL. That is when you see the bubbles come off the bottom. Never put pasta in unless you see the bubbles come off the bottom of the pot.
(6) Add salt. I add about 3/4 of a teaspoon of sea salt. I know everything you have heard about a "salt-free diet". The salt is necessary for the cooking process and not that much is absorbed.
(7) DO NOT MIX different kinds of pasta. The different shapes have different cooking times. Rotelli, for example, requires significantly more time than shells. They should NOT be mixed.
(8) Now comes the cooking times. You have to experiment with this. I do this a little unconventionally. I know the exact quantity I prepare every time and have a timer, and find my medium shells come out perfectly (to my taste) when they are cooked for ten minutes. Then "finished in the sauce". Taste the pasta using a FRESH spoon each time. Don't put it in your mouth and then back in the pot. I chew and spit it out. I never swallow the "tasting portion". The ideal is "al dente". Try NOT to overcook.
(9) You cook pasta until it is almost done.
(10) The sauce is simmering. You don't have TOO MUCH sauce in the simmer pot. You drain the pasta in the collander. USE THE MITTONS. This is where an elderly person can get a terrible burn. That pot of boiling water is EXTREMELY dangerous to a frail person. If you find yourself unable to safely handle a large pot, use a SMALL POT to scoop water out and half-empty the big pot before you move it. Several scoops with a small put will lower the water level to a point where you can probably move the big pot. Alternatively, use a small scoop strainer with a long handle, dip in and scoop the pasta out and carry it to the nearby collander. Then you will be left with a big pot of hot water on the stove you can allow to cool by itself. One of the reasons for this post is to suggest this alternative to moving the pot. Take a pat of butter and in the hot pasta swirl it around until everything is coated. You could use extra-virgin oilive oil.
(11) Then the steaming pasta is put into the sauce to finish the final 30 seconds to a minute of cooking. Thge pot with the sauce should not hold TOO MUCH SAUCE. You have reserved most of the sauce in a small bowl for the table. Now here is where there is a great deal of difference of opinion. Some books tell you to put the colander under cold water to "stop the cooking". I disagree with this.
(12) Serve with a small bowl of "extra sauce".
(13) Condiments include, freshly grated cheese, freshy ground pepper, extra salt (if desired) and tobasco (or other brand) of hot sauce.
Sauce is another subject
I prefer meat sauce, with lots of garlic, onions and oregano and tobasco sauce (not too much).
The best ground meat has fat in it. I do not use "extra lean" meat. The cheaper chopped meat works fine. I still have a buther in my neighborhood that grinds the meat in front of you. Don't purchase discolored meat. Look at the date. If you must purchase pre-packaged, buy from a place that does a lot of business.
Brown the meat in a 12-inch iron skillet, first putting extra virgin oilive oil inb the pan. Use a metal skillet and CONSTANTLY chop and move the bits around, letting them brown for thirty seconds, then turning them. Add salt and oregano. When done, put on a paper towel to absorb the grease.
I loike to use a "starter" sauce of PLAIN tomato sauce in a jar or can. Yes, the paste is better. But this is what I do. The very inexpensive sauces in the small cans are tasteless and thin. If I use the small cans I mix two brands, because they have different tastes. I don't to use the cans that have meat in them already.
You have your onions, garlic, and, if you like mushrooms.
Garlic cooks VERY quickly and then tastes TERRIBLE.
I use a 12 inch skillet heated till a droplet sizzles. I add a tablespoon of olive oil, a pat of butter and a tablespoon of water. Be careful when you add the water. I cut up the onion and mushroom and swirl it around in the pan until the onion almost becomes translucent. Add sea salt. I add either crushed cloves of garlic or garlic sliced thin with a sharp knife. I shouldn't admit it, but I use a razor blade. Iuse about four cloves of garlic, but I love garlic. Use at east one. THING. If you find the garlic has buned, throw out eveything and start again.
On the stove, in a stainless steel pot, I have brought the canned/jar sauce to a simmer, adding a scoop of water, because there will be evaporation. I then add the onion, garlic, and mushrooms (not too many mushrooms!) removed from the iron frying pan with a flat spatula. I like to get the oil out of them by putting them on a paper towel.
I like to use one or two peeled organic tomatoes cut into small pieces, then placed in the simmering sauce. Fortunately we have an organic produce store around the corner with very reasonable pries.
I then simmer the sauce for thirty to forty five minutes. On a very LOW heat. You should start the sauce FIRST, so it is simmering while the water in the pot for the pasta comes to a boil.
Now you have your pasta almost done. You look at the level of sauce in the pot. You don't want too much sauce. Pour off some sauce into a serving bowl and leave enough to coat all the pasta and let it cook for the final thirty seconds or so.
Here are some other hints.
Never leave the house or kitchen while you are browning meats of using an iron frying pan. Never leave the pan on a burner, even if unlit. Put it away.
IF THERE IS A FIRE NEVER PUT WATER ON AN OIL FIRE IN A PAN!
It will literally EXPLODE and you will get horribly urned.
Have a large cover available to put over the flames and pan his will end things.
If it is out of control, do not hesitate to flee the kitchen, evacuate the kids and family and let the fire department handle it. CLOSE the kitchen door on your way out.
A dry-chemical fire extinguisher will also work. I recommend not less than a 40 ABC.
Never cook with an iron frying pan without an extinguisher available.