Comments: Playing with your food

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I don't use our pasta machine enough. When I do, I'm always surprised at how easy it is and how much better fresh pasta is than dried and I vow to use it more.

And then it sits on the shelf for another month or two... Why is that?

Well, it does take some time to make - you can't whip it up easily after a day at work. I have been meaning to try making my own dried pasta one of these days, though. Maybe this weekend I will!

Meg -- do you always toss your pasta with olive oil before adding the sauce, or is that just with fresh pasta? This is a step I've never tried, but it sounds like it would add a lot.

Gah! No! Don't toss your pasta with oil, please, unless you're just doing a simple pasta-with-oil-and-garlic type dish. People generally add oil or butter at the end to prevent the pasta from sticking together, but there's a much better way to deal with that problem. Pasta sticks together because the starch granules on the outer surface burst when the pasta is boiled, and the starch that is released forms a goo that, if undisturbed, sets and bonds the pasta pieces together; rather than trying to dissolve the starchy glue after the fact with oil (which doesn't work so well anyway), you can just stir the pasta well during the first few minutes of cooking, so that most of the glue gets dissolved into the cooking water, and the pasta pieces don't sit next to each other long enough for the remaining glue to bond them.

Not tossing the pasta with oil also has another advantage: when the pasta just comes out of the water, those starch granules are still gaping open, so if you finish the pasta in a pan with some of the (water-based, rather than oil-based) sauce, then the pasta will absorb a lot more of the sauce and be that much tastier (although, as Meg noted, with fresh pasta you get a whole lot of absorption anyways); if you coat the pasta with oil, you block off those openings on the surface long enough for the starch to congeal and prevent the sauce from being absorbed. (That's also why you have to finish the pasta while it's hot out of the water, rather than tossing it at the table; by the time you get to the table, the starch has thickened again and formed a sauce-proof barrier.)

Actually, now that I think of it what Marcella Hazan recommended in this particular recipe was to toss the pasta with a mixture of butter and cream and then add the sauce. Next time, I think I would just make twice as much sauce and toss directly with that alone!

I like tossing with butter and salt first, because then if I decide I have too much pasta I set some aside and have it later with some parmesan grated on top. I am a sucker for pasta with just butter, salt and parmesan...

Paul - just realized I didn't explicitly answer your question. I have never tossed the pasta with olive oil, just butter. I guess upon reflection I agree with Sweth: better to have lots more sauce than to waste the pasta's amazing soaking-up-qualities on oil.

On the other hand if your olive oil is really good quality and your sauce is olive oil based...why not? My second favourite simple way to eat pasta is with garlic browned in olive oil or butter or a combination of the two and then tossed with fresh parmesan. I'm getting hungry for pasta all over again, even though we had it for dinner last night!!

If you have a breadmaker, you can make the pasta dough in it. Makes an excellent dough and its a lot easier with less mess. Then run it through the pasta machine.

What a clever idea - thanks for the tip!

I just bought a bread maker and I only found out just now that you can use it to make pasta. Excellent tip!
As for adding olive oil to pasta, I always toss the pasta around the oil after cooking. I actually use this oil produced in Israel, from a US based company called Holy Food Imports. I've tried olive oil from many other places but I have yet to find an oil which beats HFI in price and quality.
You can find their website at www.holyfoodimports.com if you would like to check them out.

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