Friday, May 19, 2006

Cooking Tips: Pasta

Keeping in mind my general stance on cooking, here are a few assorted tips about making pasta. I have pasta (with tomato sauce) typically two or more times a week, and I've gotten pretty good at putting it together quickly, easily, healthily, and tastily.

1. If you have any desire to make pasta sauce from scratch, try it! It doesn't need to be cooked for hours or anything. In fact, straight-up tomato sauce from a can (the plain kind that is called "tomato sauce") is almost fine all by itself. If you have fresh basil available, add that, but if not, put in some italian seasoning and a bit of olive oil and let it simmer for a few minutes (10 or 15). If you're not too picky, this is a fine and extremely cheap sauce for pasta. (However, I usually do use sauce from a jar. If you're watching your weight, look for a sauce that is 70 calories or less per serving.)

2. You can reduce the calorie content (relative to volume) and make pasta more nutritious if you add vegetables. They provide a lot of volume and experience for not many calories. The ones I most like to add are onions, mushrooms, spinach, arugula, and zucchini. If you add a leafy vegetable like spinach or arugula, throw it in at the end so it doesn't get too cooked (unless you like it that way).

3. Garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas) are great in pasta sauce, especially instead of meat. Here in Denver, they're about 90c a can for organic, or 50c a can for regular, and a can is about 3 servings of 1/2 cup each, which is plenty for a serving of pasta. Beans are healthier, cheaper, and easier than meat - what's not to like? Some people like canneloni (white kidney beans) in pasta too.

4. Wal-Mart now sells whole wheat pasta in boxes for $1/lb, which is an excellent price. The product (I buy the whole wheat fusilli, which is the spiral one) is indistinguishable from the $3/lb boxes found at health food stores. If you eat a lot of pasta, it is worth visiting a Wal-Mart Supercenter occasionally for this alone (though they also have cheap canned beans, including organic, and all kinds of other cheap things).


Debbie said...

For me the difference between good tomato sauce and great tomato sauce is tomato paste.

My recipe has one can (15 oz) tomato sauce, one can (6 oz) tomato paste, one can (20 oz) tomato puree and, optionally, one can (14.5 oz) diced tomates, plus all the spices, onions, and garlic. I also like some meat and/or fake meat. When I'm good I add shredded zucchini or finely shredded carrots (hoping they will basically disappear). My sauce has no fat at all in it (except for the meat), although olive oil is supposed to be good for you, so I may start adding that.

From reading the ingredient list, it looks like you can make tomato puree using one part water and one part tomato paste. That's cheaper. But the problem with tomato paste is that it is a pain to get out of the can.

I've never tried leafy vegetables; I might sometime. I've never tried garbanzo beans either; I'll definitely have to try to remember that. Later, when it's not so hot.

My favorite pasta for tomato sauce is spaghetti. Lately my favorite spaghetti is deBole's jerusalem artichoke spaghetti. It has more fiber than regular pasta but is easier to cook properly (more leeway in the timing) than whole wheat pastas.

Sally said...

I've never tried tomato pasta in pasta sauce, but I can see how it would make for a generally richer product.

Yellow (summer) squash is basically interchangeable with zucchini and some people who dislike the zucchini/tomato combo (you know who you are) will find it palatable. I have found that you can add a lot of veg without negatively impacting the overall flavor; veg like squash and mushrooms will be mostly overwhelmed by the sauce (at least, the way I season it!). Squash and spinach is a good combo.

I have eaten pasta with kidney beans (with and without a little bit of ground beef) also, though it does give an overall more "chili mac" type feel. I often follow up on that with more spice/less herb in the sauce and a sprinkling of cheddar on top. A nice change of pace. (I dislike white beans, so I often make these weird substitutions that might not work for everyone.)

In general, I think adding some red pepper flakes to pasta sauce is wonderful.

Roasted red peppers or black olives are also good (though I know Tam doesn't like olives).

And I'm with Mark Bittman (whose book I checked out of the library and perused this weekend) on the issue of reheating pasta - yes, it's not as good when reheated but it's still pretty damn good, so don't worry about it and just eat it.

Jane Brody recommends reheating (plain) pasta by running hot water over it in a colander until warmed up. I haven't tried this because I generally put my leftover pasta away with the sauce, etc., already on it.