Friday, October 28, 2011

Perfect Pasta

I love pasta. It's one of the first things I learnt to cook when I moved away from home. Before that, all I made were brownies and various varieties of egg dishes! :P The person I learned pasta from wasn't really that into making the sauces, though, or fussy about whether the pasta turned sticky or not, so I had to figure all that out for myself over the next year or so. The result being that I almost never eat pasta at restaurants because I like my own better. ;) It's pretty much tailor-made for my tastebuds, but other people seem to like it too, so I thought I'd share.


- Dried pasta (a handful or two per person - it expands quite a lot)
- Boiling water, about twice the volume of your dried pasta
- Half a tablespoon of olive oil
- A couple of pinches of salt

The main reason people chicken out of cooking pasta is that it turns sticky. Here's how to bypass the glutinous route. Mix in a couple of pinches of salt and a half tablespoon of olive oil with the boiling water, and then gently drop in the dried pasta. Do not turn down the heat - let the water keep boiling. Do not cover the pan. It will take approximately 9 minutes to cook, but keep checking on it anyways (try to cut a piece of pasta with a fork). When the pasta is soft enough to cut, but still firm to the bite (you can try biting a piece if you can't judge with the! You should be able to tell, though) turn off the heat and drain IMMEDIATELY in a colander. As soon as it has drained, dunk the pasta into a pan of cold water. Again, drain immediately. Make sure water doesn't collect at the bottom. Voila! Non-sticky pasta :) Serve ASAP.

If you're serving the pasta and the sauce separately, serve the pasta in a wide, flat serving bowl as far as possible, rather than a tall, narrow one which will make it press together. Don't cover it while it's very hot, unless you're serving it immediately, otherwise all the accumulated condensation will make it sticky.


I make several different types of sauce but they all follow roughly the same recipe, so I'll give you options where the ingredients are concerned and of course you can cut down/increase the spiciness as you see fit.

- A couple of green chillies
- Garlic acc. to taste (I say 5-6 cloves at least)
- Spring onions OR shallots OR red onions OR regular onions
- One or two red/yellow bell peppers (capsicum)
- Dried mixed herbs OR fresh basil/other seasoning. I like to try whatever I can find
- A jar of pasta sauce - the thick pureed tomato thing. I just get the cheapest, most basic one.
- MEAT. This can be anything. Diced chicken and bacon, mince, prawns - these are just a few of your options. If you must use fish, don't get a 'fishy' fish like mackerel. Use chunks of salmon or kingfish, and don't overcook it or it'll disintegrate. My personal favourite is mince, because the flavour gets in nicely. You can use chicken, lamb, beef or ground pork sausage.

(Oh if you're vegetarian, you can leave out the meat. The peppers and onions will be delicious on their own too, or with mushrooms added - yum.)

- OPTIONAL - fresh cream, mushrooms, grated cheddar

Finely chop the green chillies and garlic (if you want to pick out the chillies later, of course make the pieces bigger). If you're using spring onions or shallots, finely chop them as well. If you're using red or white onions, you can finely slice them - this works especially well with fusilli and rotini, since they wrap nicely around the pieces of pasta. If you're making penne, canneloni, spaghetti etc, chopped works well.
Slice the bell peppers into long, thin pieces or chop them into small pieces, whatever suits your fancy. The same if you're using mushrooms. If you're using fresh herbs, chop those up small too.
Sautee the green chillies and garlic in a little olive oil or butter. When they're fizzling nicely, add your onions and sautee till transparent. This is the point at which I usually add salt to taste. Add the fresh basil and/or dried mixed herbs and mix. Some ground black pepper would not go amiss, too. Add the bell peppers and stir. After a minute or so, add the meat and stir. When the meat and peppers are half cooked, you can add mushrooms (if you're using them) and cook for another couple of minutes before adding the tomato puree - as much or as little as you'd like. I use the equivalent of a coffee mug full. Mix and cover. Let cook on a low flame. How much you want to cook it after this depends on how cooked you like your meat. Check it every few minutes to see if the meat and tomato paste are cooked. (This is the point at which I sometimes like to add some grated sharp cheddar, which melts into the sauce and adds a wonderful flavour - but you don't need to use this). Check for salt, and add more if necessary.
When the sauce is done, you can serve it as it is or add some cream - I use the equivalent of a tablespoonful or two if I haven't used cheddar. It blends the flavours nicely and adds a nice texture.

Cream is also very useful to cover over errors, such as if your sauce has turned out too spicy/too salty/too 'tomato-ey' for your taste.

Mix with the pasta and serve, or serve seperately :)

Alternate serving option:
Mix the sauce evenly with the pasta and place in a shallow microwavable glass container. Sprinkle cheese (mozarella or cheddar work well) thickly over the top, and microwave for a minute.

And there you have it. I much prefer this home-made sauce to the plain store-bought varieties, and the whole process of pasta and sauce takes less than an hour. And it's so versatile. :) Enjoy!


  1. :) Pasta is one of those happily easy things. I usually use tinned chopped tomatoes to make the base for my sauce, rather than an existing pasta sauce

  2. I use the pasta sauce ie the plain, cooked tomato puree with herbs added, that you get in a jar for really cheap! Making tomato puree would take too long and I like smooth since there are so many other chunky things in this recipe :)

  3. I don't quite understand why you dunk the pasta in cold water after you drain the hot water out... I usually chuck it into the sauce and mix it all up.

    I've never used red sauce for my pasta. I tend to use only fresh cream and milk. However, the last time I made it I added some maida as well. I simply loved the texture...came out absolutely YUM!:D....according to M it was my best so far.:D

    But...I really would like to try making the red sauce sometime...with mince, of course... :)

  4. Oh! And I forgot to mention... green chillies?! *blink*

  5. I dunk it in cold water because it tends to be done way before the sauce and I hate when it gets sticky. Actually I usually do that with spaghetti, not so much with the other stuff! I figured that people might cook it and keep it for later, etc, for which I'd suggest every precaution :D Plus it would solve accidental overcooking.

    I love using cream but I usually just add a tiny bit, I don't use it as a base. I used to make pasta fairly often so it wasn't very healthy to use too much! :) The above recipe is pretty healthy, if you don't use much cream or cheese and use olive oil instead of butter. I've made the white sauce once for Richard, it came out really well but I don't at all remember what I did!

    Haven't you used green chillies in pasta? I love green chillies, they add a great flavour to things! A lot of people don't seem to use them very much in general. I chop them up fine and add them in pasta sauce, omelettes and whatnot, or slit them and add them to coconut-based curries. I use them pretty often for dal tadka too.

  6. Need to try the maida sometime!