Well it’s been a fun week making and blogging about pasta, my first official non-sweet (or baking) topic here on joepastry.com. I didn’t even come close to doing it justice, sadly, the topic is so incredibly broad. But then life is long, I’ll probably find my way back to it one day. There’s only one obvious thing I meant to discuss that I didn’t: cooking it (boiling it, you know what I mean).
Last week I mentioned that pasta water needs to be salted properly, but what I forgot to talk about was just how much of that water you need. The answer is a lot. A minimum of a gallon for a pound of pasta, ideally more. Why so much? Because pasta (especially home made pasta) gives off lots of starch as it cooks, and that starch, when it settles back onto the noodles as they’re being drained, causes them to stick together. Diluting that starch with plenty of water helps minimize the problem (a touch of olive oil in the water can help too).
The fact that pasta — a food made almost entirely of flour — doesn’t just simply dissolve when it’s place into hot water is amazing in my book, and testament to the miraculous binding power of gluten. Known as “the muscle of wheat” to the ancient Chinese, gluten binds starch molecules together like wire around a hay bale. Thus the importance of a high-gluten flour like durum (semolina) combined with proper kneading. Too little activated gluten means watery, sticky noodles, and that just ain’t good eatin’.
Lastly, I’d like to recommend that even if you decide that making your own pasta is simply too much work (as most Italians have these last 30 years), be discerning when you buy it dried. The main reason to buy imported is that by law, all commercial Italian pasta has to be made from 100% durum wheat. A little bit of soft wheat in the mix may be OK for the home made pasta, but when it comes to dried, you want nothing but durum. So shop carefully and never be tormented by a limp noodle again.