How to Prepare Pasta and 2 Methods of Adding Sauce (video)

This video is from the folks at Colavita, producers of Italian Extra virgin olive oil and pasta products. Certified Chef Ken Arnone provides an overview of commercial pasta and then discusses the various types of sauces that go with various shapes. The last segment of the video provides two different methods for combining the pasta and the sauce. Helpful, precise instruction and excellent camera work.


SEE ALSO: How Commercial Pasta is Made (video)

SEE ALSO: How to Cook Pasta (video)

Commercial pasta, the dry variety we find today in supermarkets, is produced commercially in large quantities from semolina flour and water. The dough is extruded, or pushed, through copper molds and then cut to shape.

A wide variety of shapes and sizes can be found in today's supermarket or specialty stores along with a variety of sauces. Pairing the right sauce with the right shape is simple with this general guide.

Guide to Pairing Pasta Shapes and Sauces

Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce with Basil GarnishThe first type of pasta to be considered are the long, thin shapes such as spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine, etc. The best sauces for these pastas are smooth, thin sauces such as a marinara sauce, a cream sauce, or a butter sauce that will coat the pasta itself.

The next example is the pasta with twists, tubes and similar shapes. Pastas in this group include orecchiette (ears), rigatoni, penne, and fusilli. These shapes work best with a chunky sauce that gets caught in the folds and twists of the pasta. Bolognese, meat sauces, carbonara, etc.

Bowl of tagliatelle pasta with basil pesto sauceThe final category is fresh pasta. This can be fresh fettuccini, linguini, tagliatelle (shown) or stuffed pasta such as tortelloni and ravioli. These should be paired with a lighter sauce so as not to overwhelm the filling or taste of the pasta itself. Pesto, butter, butter and sage, or olive oil work well. If you use a tomato sauce, use it very sparingly.

Guide to Cooking the Pasta

To cook the pasta, bring a gallon of water (for each 1 pound package of pasta) to boil and add a tablespoon of salt to flavor the pasta. Cook the pasta al dente (still with a firm bite) according to the directions but check for doneness before the time is up. You don't want to overcook the pasta. Remember, the pasta will continue to cook a bit once the sauce has been added so drain it when it is just al dente.

Always reserve a bit of the starchy pasta water to use to smooth out your dish and thin the sauce as needed. Drain the pasta well but do not rinse. You want to keep the starchy water on the pasta to help everything blend together for a luscious, creamy consistency.

There are 2 methods of adding sauce

  1. Drain the pasta and add back it into the hot pot (off the heat or on very low) Add in a bit of the sauce and stir well to allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce. Add more sauce as needed and stir to warm through, about a minute. Add a splash of the reserved pasta water to smooth out the sauce if needed. Plate the pasta, drizzle with a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  2. Drain the pasta and leave it in the colander. Working quickly, add a small amount of the sauce to your serving dish. Add the pasta and mix gently to completely coat the strands. Add more sauce and a splash of the reserved cooking liquid and mix again to smooth out the consistency. Garnish and serve.

TIP: I prefer to mix the pasta and the sauce in the hot pasta pot, adding a splash of the reserved pasta water as needed to get a beautifully smooth and creamy consistency. You can also add the hot pasta directly into the hot sauce pan and mix together. Be sure you have the proportions of sauce and pasta right before you do this. Italians prefer their pasta with "just enough" sauce to coat it, not swimming in it. If unsure, remove some of the sauce and add it back in in small amounts until you get the perfect texture.

TIP: For the second method, you may want to warm the serving bowls first in the oven (5 minutes at 200 degrees) to help keep the pasta warm.

Personal Note: Part of the joy of pasta is the "mouth feel" that you experience when eating it. Mix up the pasta shapes with various sauces to find your personal preferences. For example, I learned to make pasta alla carbonara (bacon and eggs) with either a spaghetti or a linguini pasta. One night, I was craving this dish but we were out of linguini so I made it with farfalle (butterflies in Italian, also called bow ties) instead. I discovered that the folds of the bow tie pasta caught and held the bits of bacon beautifully! Now I use farfalle almost exclusively for my carbonara recipe. 

Use the guide above to start but then mix it up! Share your successes (and failures...if there is such a thing with pasta?) with us in the comments section. Buon appetito!

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