Flavored and Colored Pasta

Generally the color of the pasta is a result from the flavoring agent used in the pasta. The taste from the flavoring agents is most often fairly mild. Shown below are some of the most common flavoring agents and how to add them to your homemade pasta.

Flavors and Colors of Pasta - Pasta Dough Ingredients

Flavoring Agent
Description Flavor Color

Whole Wheat Flour
Whole wheat flour must be mixed with an all-purpose flour to make the dough workable. Begin by using 1 part whole wheat flour to 1 part all-purpose flour. To increase the flavor and color, experiment with mixing a larger portion of whole wheat flour than all-purpose flour. It may take a couple of tries to get the most flavor and still have workable dough. Enhances the natural nutty flavor of basic pasta. Medium tan to light brown
Buckwheat Flour

Mix 3 parts buckwheat flour to 1 part all-purpose flour. Whisk an egg into the water that will be mixed with the flour. This will help make the dough smooth and workable.
Strong nutty flavor Light to medium brown
Oat Flour Oat flour must be mixed with an all-purpose flour to make the dough workable. Begin by using 1 part oat flour to 1 part all-purpose flour. The amount of water may need to be adjusted also. Nutty Tan to medium brown
Brown Rice Flour Flour made from rice that has only the inedible hull removed. This flour is high in fiber and produces dough that resembles pasta dough made from whole wheat flour, except the dough made from brown rice flour is a little stickier. Pasta dough made with brown rice flour works best for making flat noodles. Slightly sweet Tan to light brown
Rice Flour Rice flour is mixed with water to produce a translucent noodle. Mild Translucent white
Mung Bean Threads Mung bean starch and potato starch are combined to produce a flavorless noodle that takes on the flavor of the food that it is combined with. Flavorless Translucent white
Corn Meal

Begin by using 1 part corn meal to 1 part all-purpose flour. If too much corn meal is used, the dough becomes too grainy and will be difficult to roll out and extrude.

Color Note: Color depends on the type of corn meal used.
A slightly nutty, corn flavor Yellow, white or blue - See: Color Note
Spinach Cook approximately ½ pound of spinach until the leaves are tender. Puree or finely chop the cooked spinach and then squeeze out as much moisture from the spinach as possible. To assist in removing the moisture, wrap the spinach in a piece of cheesecloth and wring out the excess moisture. Add 3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) of spinach to the eggs and gradually mix the flour into the egg mixture. Mild spinach Medium to dark green
Broccoli

Stir ¼ cup of finely chopped and steamed broccoli in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. Save the water from cooking the broccoli and use if the dough is too dry and needs some liquid added.
Mild broccoli Medium to dark green
Tomato Mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of tomato paste in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. The paste may produce a dough that is stickier than normal, if so, gradually add a little more flour until it is the proper consistency. Mild tomato Light reddish-orange to dark reddish-orange
Beet

Mix ½ cup of cooked beets, pureed and strained, in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. Save the water from cooking the beets and use if the dough is too dry and needs some liquid added.
Slight flavor change from basic pasta. Deep pink to dark red
Carrot Mix ½ cup of cooked and pureed carrots in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. Strong carrot Orange
Red Bell Pepper Remove the stem and seeds from one red bell pepper, cut it into small pieces and puree. Mix the pureed peppers in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. Slightly sweet Bright orangish-red
Chile Pepper

Remove stems and seeds from 4 or 5 chile peppers and then finely chop or pureed them. Mix the pureed chile peppers in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. Different varieties of chile peppers can be used, such as jalapeño, cayenne, poblano, and Serrano. Each has a different degree of hotness and the amount used in the dough may need to be adjusted accordingly. 1 to 2 teaspoons of crushed, dried chile peppers can also be used.
A sharp biting flavor, which will vary in strength according to the type of pepper used. Color will vary according to the variety of pepper used, but is generally some shade of orangish-red.
Squid Ink (Black) Pasta Mix ½ ounce of squid ink in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. Squid ink can be found in specialty gourmet shops or can be extracted from the ink sacs of fresh squid or cuttlefish. Has little or no flavor. It may have a slightly mild seafood flavor, if any. Dark gray, almost black
Garlic

Crush 2 to 3 garlic cloves, mix in with the eggs, and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture.
Garlic Creamy beige
Herb Mix ½ cup of finely minced herbs in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. A single herb or any combination of two or more herbs can be used. Some of the herbs that work well in flavoring pasta are sage, thyme, parsley, cilantro, chives, rosemary, tarragon, basil, and oregano. Intense herb Creamy beige with green flecks
Garlic and Herb Mix ¼ cup of finely minced herbs and 1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves in with the eggs and gradually work the four into the egg mixture. Garlic and herb Creamy beige with green flecks
Curry

Mix ¾ teaspoon of fresh curry powder or 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of stored or commercial curry powder in with the flour, pour the flour on the working surface and form a well in the middle of the mound of flour. Add eggs in the well and begin gradually working the flour and curry powder into the eggs.
Spicy Tint of burnt orange
Saffron Mix 3/8 teaspoon of saffron powder in with the flour, pour the flour on the working surface and form a well in the middle of the mound of flour. Add eggs in the well and begin gradually working the flour and saffron powder into the eggs. Saffron threads can also be used. Soak ½ teaspoon of saffron threads in 1 tablespoon of very hot water. Add the saffron liquid, which has been strained, to the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. Spicy, mildly bitter Bright yellowish-gold
Lemon Mix 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of lemon zest or 3 tablespoons of lemon juice in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. If using lemon juice, you will need to add a little more flour to prevent the dough from being too sticky. Mildly tart lemon Light yellow
Strawberry

Place 2/3 cup of cleaned and halved fresh strawberries in a saucepan. Heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the juice from the strawberries by placing in a strainer and squeezing out as much juice as possible. Use only the juice for the pasta. Add the juice in with the eggs and gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. If dough is sticky after all the flour has been worked in, add a small amount of flour until the dough is the proper consistency.
Mild straw-berry Dull pale red
Chocolate Mix 2/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder in with the flour, pour the flour on the working surface and form a well in the middle of the mound of flour and cocoa powder. Add ¼ cup of confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla in with the eggs and pour egg mixture in the well in the middle of the flour. Gradually work the flour into the egg mixture. If the dough is too dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dough is the proper consistency. Mild Chocolate Brown

These are just some of the more common flavoring agents used. You can experiment with other flavoring agents or mix two or more together to develop your own unique flavor. The amounts of flavoring agents stated above are a starting point for flavoring and coloring your pasta. Experiment and adjust these amounts according to your personal taste.

Some Asian noodles are available in flavors, such as spinach, green tea and red shiso. Most Asian noodles get their flavor from some of their basic ingredients, such as eggs, wheat flour, buckwheat flour, mung bean threads, and rice flour. Cellophane noodles, made from mung bean threads, have little flavor but absorb the flavor of the food that they are cooked with

Drying Pasta


Pasta is allowed to dry to varying degrees for different purposes. The amount of drying time varies according to the type of pasta, drying conditions and the drying method used. Shown below are some of the drying methods used and their purpose.

Drying Before Cutting: The pasta dough should be allowed to dry after it has been rolled out and before cutting it into noodles or shapes. Allowing it to dry for approximately 15 minutes will make the dough less sticky and allow it to cut better whether cutting by machine or by hand. If cutting noodles, do not let the dough dry too much, because it may start to crack while being cut.

If making stuffed pasta, do not allow the dough to dry before cutting and stuffing. This will allow the dough to remain flexible and slightly sticky, which will provide a better seal.

Drying Before Cooking: After fresh pasta noodles and shapes have been cut, they should be placed on a lightly floured surface and allowed to dry for at least 15 minutes before cooking.


The drying period allows the pasta to dry enough so that it becomes a little firm and less sticky, which helps prevent the pasta from clumping and sticking together when it is cooked. The shaped pastas also hold their shape better when allowed to dry slightly before cooking.

Drying Before Storage: Fresh pasta can be dried completely and then stored at room temperature. Shaped pasta should be laid out on a floured surface and lightly dusted with flour. The shapes should not be touching each other and they should be turned periodically to allow proper air exposure to all sides. This will allow the shapes to dry evenly.

There are a couple of ways in which pasta noodles can be dried. The noodles can be laid out on a floured surface, lightly dusted with flour, left uncovered and allowed to remain there until they are completely dried. The strands should be separated so they are not touching, allowing proper air exposure. Wide noodles should also be turned over to allow the under side to dry properly. The thin noodles should dry sufficiently without turning.

Pasta noodles can also be hung over the back of a chair on a floured dish towel, over a broom handle, or on a drying rack to dry. Allow the noodles to sit in a warm dry location while drying. Long pasta noodles, such as angel hair, tagliatelle, tagliarini, and fettuccine, are sometimes wrapped into a nest and allowed to dry.


The nests must be turned over often to aid in drying thoroughly and to prevent it from molding on the bottom side.

The drying time for all fresh pasta will vary greatly. Drying times are affected by the size, shape and thickness of the pasta. The drying method and the temperature and humidity of the area in which it is dried will also greatly affect the drying time. Once the pasta is completely dry, it can be stored in an airtight container, in a cool dry area, at room temperature, for several months.

Pasta Preparation Tips


Tips on Making Homemade Pasta

* Strengthen your homemade pasta dough by substituting ½ cup or less of semolina flour in place of an equal amount of all-purpose flour.
* If the pasta becomes sticky at any point while working with the dough, dust it lightly with flour. Also, dust the equipment you are working with, such as the rolling pin or the rollers in the pasta machine, to prevent the dough from sticking.
* When putting pasta strips through a rolling machine to thin the dough, if the strips become long and hard to handle, cut the strips in half to make them easier to handle.
* Allowing the pasta dough to dry for approximately 15 minutes before cutting will result in cleaner cuts.
* Drying the cut pasta noodles or shapes for 15 minutes or more before cooking will allow the pasta to firm up a little and prevent the pasta from sticking together when cooking.
* Save the trimmings when cutting pasta noodles or shapes, press the trimmings together, reroll, and cut additional noodles or shapes.
* When making stuffed pasta, work as quickly as possible to prevent the pasta dough from drying out and becoming difficult to work with, and to prevent problems with the pasta sealing properly

Pasta Cooking Equipment

The basic cooking method most often used for cooking pasta is boiling. There are a few other methods used to cook specific types of pasta and Asian noodles. The other methods used are baking, deep-frying, and stir-frying. Pasta cooking can be accomplished with a minimal amount of equipment. The only pieces of equipment that are necessary are a large pot, a large spoon, and a colander.
When cooking large amounts of pasta or long strands of pasta, it is beneficial to use a perforated insert and a stock pot large enough to hold the insert. This allows enough room for proper boiling of the pasta and adds convenience in the draining process. Using a perforated insert eliminates having to pour the hot pasta and water into a colander to drain.

Some other pieces of equipment that may be useful when cooking different types of pasta are a wooden fork, a spaghetti spoon, a slotted spoon, a straining spoon, measuring cups, a wooden spatula, a wok, and a baking dish for baked pasta dishes. To get information on the most common cooking methods used and basic instructions on each, select one of the cooking methods from the links above.

Boiling Pasta


Boiling is the method most often used for cooking pasta. It is also used in conjunction with some of the other cooking methods, such as stir-frying and baking. When boiling pasta it is important to use a sufficient amount of water, generally a quart of water per 4 ounces of pasta is satisfactory. Using additional water is beneficial in that it is easier to maintain a constant temperature during the cooking period, which allows the pasta to cook more evenly. Most pastas are cooked in the same manner when using the boiling method but some types may vary slightly in some of the processes.

Dried Pasta - 1 Pound

Add at least 4 quarts of water to a large pot. Keep in mind that dried pasta expands quite a bit when it is cooked, so make sure the pot you select to cook your pasta in is large enough. One tablespoon of salt should be added to the water as it begins to boil. If the salt is added too soon it can give off an odor, which can affect the taste of the pasta. If it is added immediately before the pasta, the salt may not have enough time to completely dissolve in the water. The salt helps bring out the flavor in the pasta and helps it hold its shape.

* Heat water over high heat and add one tablespoon of salt to the water as it begins to boil.

* When the water has reached a full boil, add all the pasta and stir immediately to prevent the pasta from sticking together.

Variation - Oil in Water:

* It is sometimes suggested to add a little oil to the cooking water to help prevent the pasta from sticking together. Most experts advise against doing this because the oil will coat the pasta and prevent the sauce from sticking to it. Only use oil when cooking sheets of pasta such as lasagne, which have more of a tendency to stick together.

* Once the pasta is added, the water may cool slightly so it is important to continue to cook on high until the water comes to a full boil again. Then the heat should be turned down slightly but left high enough for the water to maintain a steady boil.

* If pasta is added to water that is not at a full boil, or is cooked at a temperature that does not keep the water at a continuous boil, the pasta will absorb too much of the water and become soft and mushy. It is not necessary to cover the pot while cooking the pasta. If the pot is covered while cooking, the heat will need to be turned down to prevent the water from boiling over, but left high enough so it is at a continuous boil. The cover would need to be removed periodically through the cooking time to stir the pasta so it does not stick together. Covering the pot will not affect the taste or speed up the cooking time.

* Long Dried Strands - Long strands of dried pasta, such as spaghetti and linguine, need to be gradually forced into the water as they soften. Hold the strands in one hand and submerge as much of the strands as possible into the boiling water. As the strands start to soften, push them further into the water as quickly as possible until the entire strands are submerged.

* Stir the strands as they continue to soften to prevent them from sticking together.

* Stuffed Pasta - Stuffed pasta, such as ravioli, should be carefully placed in the boiling water, rather than poured in as you would with a dried pasta shape. This will help prevent the pasta from breaking open when placed in the water.

* To prevent the pasta from sticking and clumping together be sure to use plenty of water, cook at a consistent boil, and stir the pasta a couple of times throughout the cooking time. Be sure to stir to the bottom of the pot so the pasta does not stick to it. Not using enough water and insufficient stirring of the the pasta can also cause gooey pasta.

* Check the pasta for doneness a couple of times through the cooking period. Read the package for the suggested cooking time, which is generally meant to start after the pasta is added and it begins to boil again. Be sure to check to see if it is done at least two or three minutes before the suggested time. If not done, continue to check approximately every 30 seconds after that to ensure that it does not overcook. The best way to check for doneness is to remove a piece of pasta from the boiling water and taste test it.

* The pasta should be cooked to an "al dente" state, which is Italian for "to the tooth." This means the pasta should be tender but still have a slightly firm bite. Do not let the pasta become too soft. The amount of time it takes pasta to cook depends on the ingredients of the pasta, its size, its shape, and its thickness.

* Fresh Pasta - Fresh and homemade pasta take a lot less time to cook than dried pasta. Some types can be done in less than 30 seconds after the pasta comes back to a full boil. It is important to have the colander ready for draining, the sauce ready to be added and serving dishes waiting before adding fresh pasta to boiling water. Start checking for doneness as soon as the water comes back to a full boil. Check for doneness often and do not let it overcook because fresh pasta will become soft and mushy very quickly.

* Pasta for Other Dishes - When cooking pasta that is going to be used in a dish that requires additional cooking, such as lasagne, cannelloni, and casseroles, the pasta should be a little undercooked because it will be cooked further in the dish it is used in. Cook the pasta for 2/3 to 3/4 of the suggested cooking time. Also, pasta that is going to be used in a salad should be slightly undercooked. This will help prevent it from absorbing too much moisture from the dressing used on the salad.

* Stuffed Pasta - Stuffed pasta, such as ravioli, should be cooked more gently than most other pastas to prevent the stuffed pasta from splitting apart. Keep the water at a gentle boil while the pasta is cooking. Cooking times will be a little longer with stuffed pastas because of the double layers and the filling.

* Have the colander in the sink ready for draining the pasta before the pasta is done cooking. When the pasta is done, immediately remove from the heat. Remove and set aside 1 cup of the cooking water to use for thinning the sauce if it becomes too thick or for loosening the pasta if it becomes sticky.

* Drain the pasta as quickly as possible because it will continue to cook in the hot water. Gently shake the colander to remove most of the excess water. Leaving a little water on the pasta will help keep the pasta from sticking together.

* Stuffed pasta should be lifted out of the cooking water and placed in the colander, rather than poured into it. This will help prevent the pasta from being damaged or splitting open. Use a slotted spoon or a skimmer to lift the pasta out of the water and place it in the colander to allow excess water to drain off or be blotted off with a paper towel.

Do not rinse the pasta because the starches on its surface will allow the sauce to stick better and rinsing will only cool the pasta down faster. * Serve the pasta in a warmed bowl or on a warmed plate.

* If pasta is drained but not served immediately it will begin to stick together and become hard to separate when you are ready to serve it. This is especially a problem when it happens to pasta strands. The strands become very difficult to separate.



* The pasta can be loosened by taking some of the cooking water that was saved when it was drained and pouring it over the pasta.


* As soon as you have the water poured over the pasta, use a spaghetti spoon or fork to loosen the pieces or strands. Serve immediately.



Variations:

* Rinsing the Pasta - The pasta should be rinsed if it is going to be used in a salad or if it is going to be stored and used at a later date. Rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pasta that is going to be used in another dish should also be rinsed in cold water so it does not continue cooking. It should also be drained well to prevent excess water from diluting the dish it is added to.


* Asian Noodles - Asian noodles should be drained and rinsed with cold water to remove starches before they are added to a stir-fry or soup.




* If the pasta is going to be served without a sauce, add approximately 1 tablespoon of olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together when it is served. If you do not want to use olive oil, you can toss the pasta with a little butter or use a small amount of the cooking water that was set aside.



* Toss the pasta to distribute the olive oil, butter or pasta water evenly throughout.

- Saucing the Pasta:


* Immediately after draining the pasta, pour it into a bowl. The sauce can be served separate from the pasta or stirred in with the pasta, using just enough sauce to coat the pasta evenly. Do not over sauce the pasta or the sauce will drown out the pasta's flavor.

* The pasta can also be added to the sauce in another pan in which the sauce and pasta can be further heated. Be sure that the sauce and pasta are heated just long enough for them to become sufficiently hot. Remove them from the heat as soon as possible otherwise the pasta can become overcooked.




Boiling Dried Pasta with Pasta Insert

When boiling pasta, the use of a pasta insert can add convenience to the process. This method requires a pot large enough to hold the insert and it eliminates the need to drain the pasta in a colander placed in a sink. Because the pot and insert are fairly large, this method is generally not used when boiling a small amount of pasta.


* Add the proper amount of water to you the pot and then place the insert in the pot. Allow the water to come to a full boil.



* When the water comes to a full boil, add the pasta.



* Allow the water to come to a full boil again and adjust heat so that the water is at a consistent boil. Stir frequently as the pasta is boiling to prevent it from sticking. Start to check the pasta for doneness two or three minutes before the minimum suggested cooking time.


* When the pasta is cooked to its proper doneness, lift the insert out of the water and allow the pasta to drain.




Boiling Asian Noodles

Many dried Asian noodles can be cooked using the Chinese method of boiling. This method generally takes a little longer than most other methods.




* The Chinese method begins similar to the standard method of boiling by adding the noodles to a pot of rapidly boiling water.



* When the noodles come to a full boil again, add 1 cup of cold water.



* Allow the water to come to a full boil again and add another cup of cold water.



* When the water boils for the 3rd time, check to see if the noodles are done. If not done, add more cold water and boil again. If the noodles will be added to a stir-fry or soup, they should be removed from the heat while they are still slightly firm, but if they are to be eaten cold, they should be cooked thoroughly.


* Asian noodles should be drained and rinsed with cold water to remove starches before they are added to a stir-fry or soup.

Frying Pasta


Noodles are fried to produce a crisp textured noodle. Frying can be accomplished by the use of two different methods, pan-frying and deep-frying. Both methods work on the principle of using hot oil to fry the noodles.

Pan-Frying: When pan-frying noodles, use a heavy skillet with deep sides. Noodles must be boiled or presoaked before they are fried. Rinse and drain boiled or presoaked noodles. Before frying, the noodles should be allowed to dry thoroughly.
Pan-Fried Noodles:

* Have noodles boiled or presoaked and thoroughly dried before pan-frying.




* Rinse and drain boiled or presoaked noodles before frying. Place the noodles on a paper towel so they can dry thoroughly.



* Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a heavy skillet using medium heat.




* Divide the noodles into portion size bunches. Add one bunch to the heated skillet. Cook for 2 ½ to 3 minutes until first side is light golden brown.




* Once the noodles are properly browned on the first side, flip to the other side and cook a few more minutes until the second side is also browned. The fried noodles form a small cake.




* Remove the noodle cake from the skillet and place it on a plate lined with a paper towel to allow the oil to drain off from the fried noodles. Repeat the frying process with the remaining bunches of noodles.

* Keep the noodles warm while preparing the ingredients that will be served with them.





Deep Frying: There are several Asian noodles such as rice vermicelli and bean thread vermicelli (cellophane noodles) that can be deep-fried to produce a crispy noodle to add to salads and other dishes. They are also used as a base for other foods to be placed on. When placed in the hot oil the noodles puff up to almost four times their original size and become crispy. Nests of wheat noodles are also deep-fried and used as a bed for sauces and other ingredients to be served on top.
Deep Fried Noodles:

* Cut the noodles into shorter lengths before frying. Using a kitchen shears, cut into lengths of approximately 3 to 4 inches.




* Heat oil, approximately 3 inches in depth, in a wok or deep-fat fryer to 375° or until it is smoking. Vegetable oil or peanut oil can be used.

* When oil is properly heated, place the noodles in the hot oil (the noodles should not be presoaked). Within a couple of seconds the noodles will puff up and be slightly browned. Use a slotted spoon to turn the noodles over in the hot oil and cook for a few seconds more, until second side is slightly browned.




* Using the slotted spoon, lift the noodles out of the oil and place them in a dish or on a plate lined with paper towels to allow oil to drain.




Keep in mind that the noodles will puff up to almost four times their size in width when adding them to the hot oil. Cook the noodles in small batches to allow for expansion while frying.

When you are finished deep-frying, the remaining oil can be cooled slightly, strained, placed in a container and stored for later use.

Stir-Frying Pasta

A wok, which has deep tapered sides, is a traditional type pan used for stir-frying. A wok works well but is not a necessity. A nonstick deep skillet also works very well. If rice noodles or mung bean noodles are going to be added to the stir-fry, they are sometimes deep-fried in the wok or deep skillet first and then set aside while other ingredients are stir-fried according to the recipe.

Many of the Asian noodles are used in stir-fry dishes. Some Italian noodles, such as spaghetti, vermicelli, and linguine, can be used as substitutions for Asian wheat or egg noodles. Generally the noodles used for stir-frying have to be presoaked or boiled before they can be used.
Stir-Fried Noodles:

* If you are using egg noodles, wheat noodles, or buckwheat noodles, boil the noodles to the proper doneness. If you are using rice noodles or mung bean noodles (cellophane noodles), soak the noodles in hot water until they are soft. After soaking or boiling, drain, rinse and drain again.



* Have all ingredients measured out, cut up or chopped and within reaching distance before beginning the stir-fry process.



* Approximately two or three tablespoons of oil are added to the wok and heated to a very high temperature. Then the ingredients are added according to how fast they cook. Generally the meat is cooked first over medium-high heat, uncovered, for several minutes, until it is almost done. Make sure all ingredients are exposed to the oil and the hottest area of the pan.



* Add the ingredients that require the longest cooking time, constantly stirring and tossing as they cook. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to cook on medium-high heat until the ingredients are tender but still have a crunchy texture. The food will cook quickly so it is important to add the ingredients at the proper times, being careful not to overcook.



* Add the noodles into the stir-fry as called for in the recipe. Generally the noodles are added towards the end of the stir-frying process




* Toss the noodles with the other ingredients only long enough to heat thoroughly. Serve the stir-fry as soon as it is finished.

Baking Pasta

Baked pasta dishes have become very popular and are served as main courses, side dishes, or as the first course of a meal. There are many different baked dishes but one of the most popular and well known is lasagne.
Lasagne is a layered dish that is made in many variations. Baked pasta consists of dishes layered with ingredients, dishes consisting of stuffed pasta, and dishes that have tossed ingredients. Most baked pasta dishes can be made a day ahead and then baked just before serving.
When preparing baked dishes, most ingredients, including the pasta, must be precooked before the dish is baked. Baking is just a means of thoroughly heating all of the ingredients as one dish. Some dishes are broiled for a period of time to provide a crisp surface. The only time precooking is not necessary is if you are using homemade lasagne sheets that have not been allowed to dry or if you are using a "no need to precook" type of commercial lasagne sheet.

The baking dish used for baked pasta should be heavy duty and made of an ovenproof material, such as glass or ceramic. The dish should have fairly high sides to prevent the bubbling sauce and melting cheese from spilling over in the oven as the dish bakes.
Many times the bottom and sides of the baking dish are buttered before ingredients are added. Buttering the bottom and sides helps prevent the ingredients from sticking to the dish when it is baked.

Baked pasta dishes include ingredients such as pasta, meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, herbs, spices and some type of sauce. The sauce can be tomato or cream based but must include enough liquid to provide sufficient moisture to keep the pasta dish from drying out. During the baking process, the pasta will be further cooked and will absorb some of the liquid from the sauce. When precooking the pasta, it is important that it is removed from the heat while it is still a little undercooked, otherwise, the additional cooking and liquid absorption during the baking process will cause the pasta to become overdone and mushy. The precooked pasta should also be well drained so excess moisture is not added to the rest of the dish, causing it to become too watery.

Reheating Pasta

Plain pasta and pasta dishes can be reheated in the oven, microwave or on the stovetop. The method that works best depends on the quantity and type of pasta or pasta dish you are reheating.

Plain Pasta

Plain leftover pasta can be reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave. Plain pasta does not reheat well in the oven because the pasta is not coated by a sauce or other ingredients to prevent it from drying out.


Plain Pasta - Stovetop:

* To reheat on the stovetop, bring some salt water to a boil. Be sure to use enough water to sufficiently cover the amount of pasta you are reheating, but you do not need as much water as when the pasta was originally cooked. When the water comes to a full boil add the leftover pasta.


* Allow the pasta to boil for approximately 30 to 60 seconds. Check after 30 seconds and if not thoroughly heated, continue to boil and check every 15 seconds until sufficiently heated. Do not overcook.

* Drain heated pasta and serve plain, add it to a sauce or add it to another dish


* When reheating Asian noodles, place them in a strainer or colander and immerse into the boiling water just far enough to cover all the noodles.



* Allow the noodles to sit in the boiling water for 20 seconds.



* Stir the noodles with a wooden spoon to separate them while immersed in the water. After 20 seconds, drain and rinse.



Plain Pasta - Microwave:


* Put leftover pasta on a plate or in a microwave safe baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving one corner open slightly to allow steam to escape.

* Microwave on medium power to prevent overcooking and heat for 1 to 1 ½ minutes. If the microwave does not have a turntable, stop the microwave halfway through the cooking time and turn the dish.


* After the cooking time is completed, check to see if it is warmed thoroughly. If not completely warmed, return the pasta to the microwave and continue to cook in 15-second intervals, checking after each to see if it is heated thoroughly.

* When properly heated, remove from the microwave and carefully remove the plastic wrap covering so that you are not exposed to escaping steam.

* The reheated pasta can be served plain, added to a sauce or added to another dish.



Sauced and Baked Pasta Dishes

Sauced and baked pasta dishes can be reheated on the stovetop, in the microwave or in the oven. To reheat on the stovetop, the pasta would have to be sauced and stored in a heatproof plastic bag.


Sauced and Baked Pasta Dishes - Stovetop:


* Bring water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the bagged pasta. Drop the heatproof bag of sauced pasta into the boiling water. Be sure the bag is completely sealed before placing it in the water.

* Allow the bag to remain in the boiling water for approximately 1 minute, or until it is heat all the way through. The time required to reheat the pasta will depend on the type of pasta and the quantity.







* Check after 1 minute and if not thoroughly heated, continue to boil and check every 15 to 30 seconds until thoroughly heated. Do not overcook.

* When sufficiently heated, pour the pasta from the bag into a serving bowl or on a serving plate.


Sauced and Baked Pasta Dishes - Microwave:


* Baked pasta and sauced pasta can be reheated in the microwave. Place the leftover pasta on a plate or in a microwave safe baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving one corner open slightly to allow steam to escape.

* Microwave on medium power to prevent overcooking and heat for 1 to 1 ½ minutes. If the microwave does not have a turntable, stop the microwave halfway through the cooking time and turn the dish.

* If you have any leftover sauce, it can be drizzled over the pasta before reheating to help prevent the pasta from becoming too dried out.

* After the cooking time is completed, check to see if it is warmed thoroughly. If not completely warmed, return to the microwave and continue to cook in 15-second intervals, checking after each to see if it is heated thoroughly.






* When properly heated, remove from the microwave and carefully remove the plastic wrap covering so that you are not exposed to escaping steam.


Sauced and Baked Pasta Dishes - Oven:

* Place the leftover pasta in an ovenproof dish.


* Cover the dish with its cover if it has one, otherwise cover the dish tightly with foil. Having the pasta covered tightly is necessary to prevent it from drying out. Preheat the oven to 325° and place the pasta in the oven.




* Heat for 20 minutes and then check to see if the dish is heated all the way through. To check, insert the tip of a knife or fork into the center of the pasta and leave it inserted for 10 to 15 seconds. Remove it and feel the tip. If it is hot to the touch, then the pasta is sufficiently heated. If it is not, return it to the oven.



* If it is not sufficiently heated, return it to the oven and heat for an additional 10 minutes. Check again and if not heated thoroughly, return to the oven again. Repeat at 10-minute intervals until thoroughly heated. Reheating time will vary according to the type of pasta dish and the quantity you are reheating. When thoroughly heated, it is ready to serve.

When reheating any type of pasta, it is important to keep it from getting too dried out by whatever method you are using. To prevent it from becoming too dried out, be sure to not use too high of heat, cover the pasta tightly and do not cook any longer than necessary to heat it thoroughly.

Tips on Reheating:

* When microwaving leftover pasta, heating individual serving size portions one at a time works better than trying to reheat several servings at one time. The individual servings will heat more evenly.
* Using a round or oval microwave safe dish for reheating in the microwave allows the pasta to reheat more evenly. A square cornered baking dish has a tendency to allow the corners to overcook.
* When reheating lasagne in the oven, poke several small holes in the top of the lasagne and pour a small amount of milk over it and then cover the lasagne tightly with foil. Place in a 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until cheese is bubbling. The little bit of milk will help keep the lasagne moist.

Checking Doneness of Pasta


The amount of time required to cook pasta to its proper doneness varies depending on its size, shape and thickness. Also, whether the pasta is fresh or dried greatly affects the amount of cooking time required. Cooking times can vary from 1 to 2 minutes for some of the fresh pasta to more than 15 minutes for some of the larger and thicker dried pasta shapes. Methods for checking the doneness for dried and fresh pasta are shown below.

Dried Pasta

Dried pasta is available in many shapes and sizes, which can cause the cooking times to vary greatly. The larger, bulkier pasta shapes will take more time to cook than the more delicate strands of pasta or soup pastas, but they can all be checked for doneness in basically the same manner. Generally the pasta package will show suggested cooking times, which is beneficial because it provides a starting point.

Visual: Check the package for the minimum cooking time suggested for the quantity of pasta you are cooking and then begin checking for doneness approximately 1 or 2 minutes before the suggested minimum time is up. If the pasta is not done, continue to cook and check every 30 seconds until done.



* Visually check the pasta to see if it has started to swell slightly and watch for it to begin rising to the surface of the boiling water. Both are indications that the pasta is getting close to done and that you should start to check it. Lift a pasta shape from the boiling water using a slotted spoon. Cut the pasta in half and check the center, which if the pasta is done, it should not have a white ring or spot in it, or be opaque in appearance. The pasta should be uniform in color.

* When cooking strands of pasta, if the strands do not drape easily over the spoon, they need additional cooking time.




* If the strands of pasta drape easily over the spoon when lifted from the water, they are cooked to the proper doneness.





Taste: Tasting the pasta is probably the best way to determine doneness. Check the package for the minimum cooking time suggested for the quantity of pasta you are cooking and then begin checking for doneness approximately 1 or 2 minutes before the suggested minimum time is up. If the pasta is not done, continue to check every 30 seconds until done. When the pasta is done it will be tender but still have a slight bite to it. Cooking pasta to this point of doneness is called "al dente," which is Italian for "to the tooth". If the pasta is overcooked it becomes mushy. It is better to have it undercooked rather that overcooked. The pasta should be slightly undercooked if it is going to be added to another dish, expose to further cooking, or added to a hot soup.

Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried pasta and must be watched very carefully to ensure that it is not overcooked. The fresher it is the faster it will cook. Fresh pasta starts out soft and doughy and then firms up as it is cooked.
Taste: Tasting fresh pasta is the best way to check for doneness. If the pasta is very fresh and moist it can cook within a minute or two. Generally after the pasta is put in the boiling water and the water begins boiling again it takes 2 to 4 minutes for it to get done. Checking for doneness should begin as soon as the pasta begins to float to the surface. If it is not done, check doneness again every 15 to 20 seconds until it is done. It must be watched very carefully so that it does not become overcooked. Fresh pasta should be tender and slightly firm, but it will never be "al dente" because it is not firm textured to start.

Whether you are cooking fresh or dried pasta, once it is done it should be removed from the heat and drained immediately so that the cooking process is stop. If the pasta remains in the hot water, it will continue to cook and become overcooked.

Saucing the Pasta

Most pastas have a similar flavor but when the sauce is added, the pasta and sauce create their own unique flavor. There are many types of sauces that can be used but some go better with certain types of pasta than others. Some general guidelines for different types of pasta are shown below.

Shaped Pasta: Conchiglie, farfalle, fusilli, gemelli, gnocchetti, gramigna, lumache, lumaconi, orecchiette, radiatori, route, rotini, and trenne
Sauce: Thick tomato sauces, meat sauces, chunky sauces, and cheese sauces

Tubular Pasta: Canneroni, cannolicchi, cavatappi, garganelli, macaroni, maccheroncelli, manicotti, paccheri, penne, rigatoni, tortiglioni, and ziti
Sauce: Thick tomato sauces, meat sauces, chunky sauces, and thick cream sauces

Strand Pasta: Angel hair, capellini, chitarra, fedelini, spaghetti, and vermicelli
Sauce: Light tomato sauces, butter based sauces, light oil based sauces, and light cream based sauces

Ribbon Pasta: Fettuccine, lasagne, linguine, pappardelle, riginette, tagliatelle, and trenette
Sauce (For the wider dried pastas): Meat sauces, thick tomato sauces, and thick cream sauces
Sauce (For narrow or fresh pastas): Light tomato sauces, butter based sauces, light oil based sauces, and light cream based sauces

Soup Pasta: Acini di pepe, alphabets, anellini, conchigliette, ditali, farfalline, orzo, pastine, risi, stele, stortini, and tubetti
Sauce: Light sauces, mainly used in broth or soups with a light base.

Stuffed Pasta: Agnolotti, pansotti, ravioli, tortelli, and tortellini
Sauce: Light tomato sauce, light cream based sauce, and broth

Asian Noodles: Asian noodles, Asian wheat noodles, Asian rice noodles, bean thread noodles, cornstarch noodles, seaweed noodles, and soba noodles
Sauce: Generally not eaten with a sauce. Used in stir-fries, soups and salads.

The pasta should not be over-sauced. It only needs to be coated with enough sauce to allow the pasta to benefit from its flavor. There should not be leftover sauce in the bottom of the bowl when all of the pasta has been eaten. Shown below are some basic guidelines on adding sauce to the pasta.

* Drain the pasta and gently shake the colander, leaving a little of the cooking water clinging to the pasta. The light coat of cooking water will allow the sauce to blend and spread throughout the pasta more evenly.

* Add just enough sauce to evenly coat all of the pasta. The sauce can be added using several methods. See methods below.

Heat Pasta and Sauce Together:


* The best method for infusing the flavor of the sauce into the pasta is to pour the pasta back into the pan it was cooked in while the pot is still warm and then add the sauce to it or adding the pasta to a pan containing sauce that is already warmed.



* With the pan over low heat, stir and toss the pasta and sauce until the pasta is well coated. This will keep the pasta warm, infuse the sauce's flavor in the pasta and keep the pasta from sticking together.

* Limit the amount of time the pasta is returned to the heat source to 1 minute or less, otherwise it may become over-cooked. If cooking fresh or homemade pasta this method may not be the best to use because the pasta will overcook too quickly.

* Once the pasta has been sauced, serve immediately in warmed serving bowls or on warmed serving plates.

Toss Pasta and Sauce in a Warm Bowl:

* After draining, the pasta can be added to a warmed serving bowl or plate and the sauce can then be added.



* Toss the pasta and sauce together until evenly coated.





Serve Pasta and Sauce in Separate Warm Bowls:


* After draining, the plain pasta can be added to a warmed serving bowl, with the sauce added to another warmed serving bowl and then served separately.

* If serving in this manner, be sure the pasta is not drained completely. Leaving some of the cooking water on the pasta will help keep the pasta from sticking together. The pasta should be served immediately. If it is not going to be served immediately, drain the pasta completely, put it back in the pan it was cooked in, and add butter or oil to keep it from sticking together.

Pasta Cooking Tips


Light Tips for Pasta Dishes

* Prepare dishes flavored with vegetables and herbs rather than meats and cream sauces.
* When possible, use low-fat cheese, such as ricotta or cottage cheese in place of other cheeses.
* Reduce the amount of cheese that is used on the top of baked dishes.
* When making sauces that call for butter, replace it with olive oil.
* When making a cream sauce, use skim or low-fat milk instead of cream.
* In dishes that call for meat, reduce the amount of meat and increase some of the other ingredients that contain less fat, such as vegetables.

Cooking Tips

* When cooking fresh pasta, watch it very closely and test often for doneness because it cooks quickly.
* To prevent the pasta from sticking together, be sure to use plenty of water and stir the pasta when first adding it to the boiling water.
* To prevent soft, mushy pasta, do not allow the pasta to be in the water any longer than necessary by adding it only when the water is at a full boil and by keeping it at a steady boil throughout the cooking time.
* Adding salt to the water when cooking pasta will help firm the pasta and bring out its flavor.
* Add a tablespoon of oil to the water when cooking lasagne. Because lasagne noodles are long, wide and thick, they have a tendency to stick together when they cool. The oil in the cooking water will help to prevent them from sticking together.
* Pasta should be cooked as close to serving time as possible because it cools down quite rapidly. Serve the pasta on a heated plate or in a heated bowl to help keep it warm.
* To warm a large bowl for serving pasta, put the serving bowl in the sink and place the colander in it. When the pasta is done, pour it into the colander, allowing the hot water to drain into the bowl. Pull the colander out of the serving bowl and let the pasta drain. Empty the hot water from the serving bowl and pour the pasta into the warm bowl.
* When cooking fresh or homemade pasta, be sure to have everything ready that you will need to prepare the pasta for serving, such as the colander in the sink, the sauce made and warmed bowls or plates ready to be filled. Fresh and homemade pasta cooks rapidly and having everything ready ahead of time will assist in serving warm pasta.
* To bring pasta water to a boil more quickly, cover the pot with a lid while you are heating the water. Do not cover the pot while cooking the pasta.
* When making lasagne, use the "no need to cook" lasagne noodles to save time.
* To prevent pasta from boiling over, place a wooden spoon or fork across the top of the pot while the pasta is boiling.
* When saucing the pasta, if the sauce seems a little dry, add a few tablespoons of the pasta's cooking water.
* Don't worry about cooking too much pasta, the leftover pasta can be refrigerated and used later in other dishes, such as salads, casseroles or soups. It can also be reheated and eaten plain or with a sauce.
* If combining different pastas, be sure to select shapes and sizes that are similar so that they will cook in the same amount of time.