Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pasta Cooking Details

Harold McGee wrote a good article on cooking pasta with different amounts of water in today's New York Times.

It reminded me of a few details I've learned about cooking pasta over the years. Each one is a small thing but, added up, I think they make a big difference in the way it tastes.

Salt. I salt the water pretty heavily as soon as I put the water on. "Salty like the sea," says Signora Passalacqua, the mother of my Sicilian friend Gioacchino. (He's the export help we use for many foods we carry, like the Sicilian sun dried tomatoes, which as it turns out, go great in pasta.) Salty water gives the pasta a base of flavor you just can't get salting afterwards. I use the French grey sea salt. Dollar per pound, it's still the best sea salt I've ever tasted.

Stir soon. As soon as I add the pasta to the water I stir. This is the best way I've found to keep it from clumping and sticking.

Stop short. I cut the cooking short of done, when it's still very al dente, i.e. it has a bit of snap to it.

There and back again. I drain the water, shake the pasta once or twice then quickly return it to a warm pot, mixing it with the sauce. The extra bit of cooking with the sauce softens it further and, instead of absorbing water, the pasta absorbs sauce, making it even more flavorful.

Warm bowls. I drain the hot pasta water into the bowls and toss it out just before serving.

I don't add oil to the water, run water on it after it's cooked or throw a piece against the wall,to see if it's done, which are weird tricks I've tried once or twice in my day. In my experience, most of those things don't do much to help the cooking. Some even hurt.

One of my favorite pasta dishes for two is half a bag of Rustichella's fettucine with half a jar of Il Mongetto's plain tomato sauce mixed with a full tin of good tuna in olive oil, (Ortiz is a treat). I eat it almost every week!

What do you like?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs, Part I

The whole operation. More photos.

I first tasted bacon wrapped hot dogs in Mexico. Brad introduced me to them. We ate them as appetizers before going to dinner, which is an act of gustatory hubris I don’t entirely recommend. They’re a street food in the Baja peninsula, sold from hot dog stands. I thought they were particular to that area until I tried them a second time, this time in Sayulita, Mexico, a small town about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. There were two stands on the main town square dueling it out within eye shot of each other. Both charged ten pesos, about a buck.

In Sayulita the bacon is sliced paper thin and wrapped all around the hot dog like the candy stripe on a barber’s pole. They’re grilled and held warm until you order. The bun isn’t toasted, but they will ask you if you’d like it slathered with mayo, port and starboard inside the bun, and whether you’re up for any chopped raw tomatoes and grilled onions. The rest of the toppings are up to you. If you want to do it Sayulita style you can add mustard, ketchup, sour cream, pineapple, mango and relish.

If you like bacon and hot dogs separately, you might just lose your cookies when you eat one of these. They're easy to make at home. Just make sure to get the bacon sliced really thin. If it doesn’t hold to the dog you can pin it on with tooth picks.