Making Better Pasta

Just thought I’d share a few tips I’ve learned in the last while about making better pasta.  These are just little steps you can do with the stuff in the box or bag, without getting into making your own pasta from scratch.  I’ve picked up all these tips from around the different sites and shows, so hopefully it’s best of the best.

1. Use a LOT of water.

Most people don’t use enough water and, as a result, the water gets too starchy too quickly.  Look at the pasta pot you are using and consider going up a size for your next run.

2. Salt the water heavily when boiling

I put a whole handfull of kosher salt in for a large pot of boiling water.  You can use less if you are using iodized salt, but think tablespoons, not teaspoons.  This gives some taste to otherwise bland pasta.  You’ll know if you used too much if the salt overpowers the pasta when you get to the tasting phase.

3. Bring the pot to a rolling boil before thinking about putting in the pasta

For reals.  This is the A#1 tip.  You want the pasta to cook quickly, not soak in water.  Bring the water to a full boil, then back off the temp a bit before you chuck in the pasta.  Makes a huge difference.

4. Test for al dente often.

After the pasta starts moving on its own in the water (you can tell it’s cooking), start sampling it, and sample it every 30 sec to 1 min.  Let the pasta go a little undercooked rather than overcooked.  Al dente is when the pasta is firm but not bony.  There is nothing to substitute for practice here.  Try and try again.  Remember the pasta is going to continue to cook a bit in step 6 below, so slightly underdone is good.  You just don’t want any boniness.

5. Do not wash the pasta when you strain it.

Your getting rid of the starch and salt and flavor, cooling the pasta too quickly, and the pasta will stick together worse if you do this.  Big no no.

6. Do not leave the pasta dry / overstrain

OK, so the best thing to do is to take pasta out of boiling water and put it DIRECTLY into simmering sauce.  Let the sauce and pasta cook together for a few minutes.  This infuses the pasta with the flavor of the sauce and gets rid of the thick sauce glob on top of dry/sticky pasta glob when you plate it up.  The starch on the pasta also thickens your sauce a bit.

If you’re not using a sauce or you REALLY want your guests to be able to put on their own sauce (so not the way the italians do it), immediately put some olive oil over the pasta.  This is to keep it from sticking and to make it shimmer and taste yummers even on its own.

Do these things!


EMAC 6300: “Connected”

“Connected” is a great overview of network theory through today’s various social networking ‘configurations’.  The authors really do a great job of taking the reader along, referring to studies and statistics, but not getting over-analytical or mired in the details of those studies and statistics.  The information seemed reliable, but still fun to read.  This is a great quality for any book to achieve!

The chapter that stood out to me was about relationships, “Love the One Your With.”  I’ve been building a hypothesis (this goes several years back into my single days) that one of the reasons why young adults are delaying marriage longer than in the past is because the percieved ‘marketplace’ of dating and marital opportunity is becoming more and more limitless.  Because there are more and more vehicles (or as the authors put it, configurations) through which you can expand or alter your social network, you are led to feel dissatisfied and leave your current relationship or network of prospective relationships based on the possibility of reaching your ideal relationship partner through the now limitless opportunity of the World Wide Web.  No longer is someone limited to their reachable geographical configuration; their city, county or state.  Now with online presence, instant communication, and rich media (video and photos), it is possible for someone anywhere in the world to make a connection.

I came to my hypothesis by comparing my parent’s dating environment to my own.  What did they have that I didn’t, and what do I have that they didn’t?  Both my parents and my in-laws met in a small community of people.  My in-laws went to High School together, and my parents were introduced through my father’s sister who lived down the street from my Mom.  These stories seem to fit lock step with the examples in the book.  I met my wife through a friend who invited her to a party at my house (though she maintains that we first met at a church dance a couple of months before).  Either way, it was through a small community.

The authors of this book put a much-needed reality check on my theory.  I still feel it has merits, but they pretty firmly allege that even if I were to radically alter my social network of friends, I would still likely meet my future partner 1 to 2 degrees away from my current closest friends.  They seem to be rooting the present idea of an online connection in the tradition sense of a true person-to-person connection.  The two have no logical difference, and behave the same in their estimation.

So after reading the chapter, I felt like a bit of cold water had been thrown on my theory.  It doesn’t completely disprove my theory, because my theory centers on the person’s perception of what a change in their social network can give them.  I guess I could say that the author’s findings extend my theory to say that even if you change your social network, you would have to go through several iterations of change and extension before you could truly access someone who was more than 2-3 degrees away from you in your original social network.  There continues to be some truth to the theory based on my anecdotal observation of people’s continued dissatisfaction with relationships which, from the outside, look perfectly fine.

So, just for fun, and because I really dig social graphs, I decided to take a look at my updated social graph from Facebook.  I think it’s very interesting how it clusters my friends by interest or background (I clearly can see the ‘phases’ of my life and the different groups of people I’ve been involved with throughout).  I also like exploring who the “bridges” are between various groups, or where various groups have overlap or cross connection.

And then there were THREE…

When last I left you, we were three weeks until our due date, and I had cancelled an important work trip to be at home with my beautiful, nesting wife.  Let me just say, I am glad I stayed home.  Not because the baby came (he didn’t), but because he DID come the following Wednesday (March 2, 2011 @ 4:14am), and we felt ready.  (Well, mostly ready).

So let me back up and tell the story.

Continue reading And then there were THREE…