Pasta Tips and tricks

Ever the mothering mother, I have even more tips for those who are new to the pasta-cooking game:

• Have all your ingredients and cooking equipment ready before you start.

• Use a large pot to boil the water; salt the pasta water well (it should taste like the sea) for even cooking and final flavor.

• Balance the quantity of sauce or toppings to pasta — resist the urge to add too much pasta. A general guideline for 3 or 4 servings: 2 cups tomato or cream sauce or 4 cups chunky toppings to 8 ounces of uncooked pasta.

• Use good-tasting olive oil, it's part of the final flavor of the dish.

• For the toppings or sauce, work in a nonstick pan for easy cleanup.

• The toppings can be assembled 30 minutes in advance, but make sure everyone is ready for dinner before you start cooking the pasta.

• Taste to test for doneness; it should be toothsome but tender.

• Have the colander ready in the sink for draining the pasta.


Here are some more combinations to toss with cooked pasta:

• Cooked green vegetables such as sautéed zucchini or diced green beans, feta chunks and pitted Kalamata olives.

• Canned chickpeas, diced bottled roasted peppers and shredded cheese.

• Diced peppered salami, sautéed radicchio and little lumps of cream cheese.

• Toasted breadcrumbs, nuts, garlic and hot pepper flakes.

• Small shrimp, sautéed onions and baby kale or spinach.

• Halved cherry tomatoes with refrigerated pesto.

• Shredded roast chicken, spicy salsa and diced queso fresco.

• Diced ham, cooked peas and butter and cheese.

JeanMarie Brownson, Chicago Tribune