Pantry Raid I: Use Your Noodle Transcript

The Kitchen

    In the beginning, in the days before mini-marts and mini-vans, the pantry was an insurance policy against starvation. The dried, the cured, the canned goods it embraced offered the cook refuge from seasonal inconsistencies in an often fickle market place, kind of like bonds in a bear market. But today, the properly stocked pantry is still a culinary port in a storm, a secret garden where the appetite can roam without fear of runaway grocery buggies.
    Alas, many of us allow our pantries to dilapidate into garages for half-eaten breakfast bars and nightlight bulbs and cans of soup from the Carter administration. Fortunately, this is a reversible condition. Fortunately, this is Good Eats.

The Restaurant

GUESTS: Waitress
              Kid Eating Pasta
              Dr. Amy Trubeck, Anthropologist

WAITRESS: [hands AB a plate of food]
AB: Thanks.

     Whether it's savica{?} in India, rishtan{?} in Arab lands, soba in Japan, noodle in Germany or macaroni in Italy, pasta is as basic as it is beloved, as unitarian as it is universal. How did that happen? Well, you know in school they tell us that Marco Polo spread pasta around the world like some kind of vermicelli-bearing Johnny Appleseed. But, you know what? I don't buy it.

AB: You're an anthropologist, what's the story?
Well, you know, we really don't know, but it wasn't Marco Polo.
AB: Aaah.
AT: Noodles just seem to happen. Now, if I had a map I could  explain it to you better.
AB: Map? Map? No map, but I found that [globe].
AT: Wow. Pretty good. All right. Well, I'm going to look for Italy here. Here we go. Basically, we know that there was some kind of noodle product or pasta in Italy and in China by 1,000 AD.
AB: Which is like hundreds of years before Marco Polo.
AT: That's right.
AB: Where did it go from there?
AT: Well, eventually you see, noodle products you can find them in Japan, in Thailand, in India, even Afghanistan and certainly last but not least, Italy.
AB: So, this must have been a culinarily significant event.
AT: Yeah, I think it was a very significant event primarily because wheat and other grain products were the starchy staple for most people in these kinds of climates and they were primarily making gruel which is just using the grain and cooking it in water.
AB: Mmm, gee. No gruel tonight.
AT: And the other thing that's interesting about pasta is is that you can just cook it over a fire, you don't have to have an oven and to make bread you need to have an oven and a lot of people didn't have the technology or even the wood available to do that.
AB: So, if you had a pot, you add some water, you add some firewood, bingo, dinner.
AT: You're good to go.
AB: Love it. How do you like yours?
AT: I like mine with a lot of fresh vegetables and toasted nuts sometimes, too.
AB: Extremely healthy.

The Restaurant's Kitchen

GUESTS: Cooks #1 & #2.

     Recent trends have led us to lavish copious amounts of attention upon pasta sauce while allowing the pasta itself to languish, which is kind of like coddling the ketchup while burning the burgers. Now, the first step to true, dry pasta connoisseurship is in understanding the shape of meals to come.

Somewhere in Italy - 8:22 am

   Buon giornio. Contrary to popular mythology back in the States, dry pasta is not inferior to fresh pasta. It's just, well, different. See, fresh pasta tends to soak up sauce while dry factory-made pastas carry it, kind of like a nice Armani blazer. Now in Italy, pasta shapes are like little league teams. Every town's got one, or several.
Now, there are hundreds of shapes of pasta to choose from and the dist-

Picture Courtesy Means Street

inctions between the styles can be maddeningly subtle. For instance, bucatini - verchatelli{?}. Compound this with regional variations in nomenclature and identification becomes so tedious as to require dental records.

    But, it basically breaks down into five groups: strings, ribbons, tubes, shapes, and what I call micro pasta. Now, I believe in having a delegate from each group in my pantry at all times.

Micro Pasta

    Now the string family: vermicelli, capellini and the like. Spaghetti is my favorite just because it's a really versatile size. This is the pasta I reach for when I'm dealing with olive oil based sauces.


    Now, of the ribbons, linguini, fettucini, tagliatelle, again, I default to the middle ground, fettucini. It's my choice for butter and cream sauces. And yes, a little Alfredo every now and then is good for the soul.


    Now, the huge tube family it's tough what with all the pennes, tubettis and zittis to choose from. But since this is the group I look to for heavy sauces like Mac and Cheese, I go with the penne rigata.

Penne Rigata

    Now, when it comes to shapes, I'm a sucker for a whimsical name. With all the dischettis, fusilis, farfalles and the like I tell you, it's a tough choice, but I got to go with the radiatore. Maybe the idea of eating little radiators is just too appealing to me. Now, most of these shapes are kind of wild card when it comes to sauce. But remember, the deeper the groove and recesses that the noodle has, the better it's going to be at holding on to heavier sauces like cream sauces.


    Now, when it comes to the micro pastas like orzo or this pastina, this stuff is strictly for broths and soup.

    Ironically, with the exception of coloring and flouring agents like spinach and squid ink, most of these hundreds of different pasta shapes all come from the same dough, a simple concoction of water and a flour called semolina which comes from a wheat called durum.



    Now for centuries, this was the heart of the durum wheat world, the heel of the boot [of Italy]. But in the last half of the 20th century, another durum power has emerged.  That's right. Sunny South Dakota. American durum is now as good if not out-and-out better than Italy's. So before you shell out big bucks for an expensive import, you might just buy American. Of course, since many Italian pasta houses have switched to Dakota durum, you're probably already buying American.  You're just paying extra for an Italian box.

Rigata means "stripe."  Dozens of different pasta styles are Rigatas.

Florence Gourmet, Inc.: San Francisco

GUEST: Luigi Martinelli, Pasta Maker

     Durum flour, or semolina, is crucial to pasta making. Its higher protein content and the shape of its unusually large grains helps to prevent the release of starch from the pasta into the cooking water. Now, this protein also makes durum doughcalled macaroni in Italyvery tough. I've seen a home machine actually fall apart trying to roll out the stuff. Don't try this at home.
    So, how is factory pasta made? Well, ribbons like tagliatelle or fettucini are usually cut from large sheets like this one that's being rolled up. But, strands, shapes, tubes, all made from extrusion. And most American kids, at least, have first hand knowledge of extrusion.

    Used to be, pasta manufacturers were always having to replace the bronze dies that their extruders pushed the dough through. You see, semolina is so abrasive that it actually will etch the soft metal. It can even wear it out. Now, the noodles that come out of dies like this have a texture to them which can be anything from a matte finish to a downright rough surface.


    Now when Teflon became available in the latter half of this century, a lot of manufacturers decided to coat their dies with the super hard material. Not only could the dies stand up to the abrasive semolina, but the manufacturers found they could run their extruders at a much, much higher speed. But, these new noodles, they were different. See, they had a smooth exterior which looked great but they didn't grab hold of sauce quite the way the old, rougher noodles did. So, some smaller manufacturers like this one in San Francisco have actually gone back to the more fragile, persnickety bronze dies.
    So, this is Luigi Martinelli. He's been making pasta here in San Francisco ...

AB: ... for what, 30 years?
LM: No, no. 1949. Fifty years, right now.
AB: Fifty years. And he was just telling me a secret recipe for marinara which you can't have because it's a secret. Sorry, but that's another episode. Ha.
LM: [says something to another pasta maker]  Many kinds of flour ...
AB: Heh, heh. That's power. Okay, flour.
LM: ... you can have many kinds of flour. We use the hard durum flour. In fact, you see is yellow. It's not white.
AB: No, it's yellow. Yeah.
LM: It's the best flour money can buy. And then we combine that with semolina, pure, homemade semolina with 60% semolina 40% flour.
AB: Of regular flour. That gives you just enough hardness, just enough protein ...
LM: It's a beautiful combination ... [?]
AB: Now, what would happen if you used just all semolina. What would happen? It would fall apart?
LM: No. It won't come out. Two minutes in the hot, boiling water. That's it. It's all done. Two minutes.
AB: Two minutes because you guys don't dry it all the way.
LM: Yes.
AB: If you were to dry it in the drying cabinet it might take five minutes.
LM: [???]
AB: You're not going to retire anytime soon, are you?
LM: No, no.
AB: Okay.
LM: I'm only 74.
AB: 74? That's like nothing. It's like you're a teenager.
LM: Yeah, by 80.
AB & LM: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.  -Federico Fellini

The Kitchen

    Contrary to the back of many a box of pasta, pasta needs a lot of water.  A single 3 to 4 ounce portion can squeeze by on 3 quarts, but as a rule, I never cook any amount of pasta in less than a gallon of water.

    That's 4 quarts, 8 pints, or 16 cups, or 256 tablespoons, or 768 teaspoons which is to say 128 ounces. Not a drop less.

1G =4Qts =8Pts =16C
=256Tbsp =768tsp =128 oz

Photo Courtesy Means Street

    A pound of pasta, roughly enough for four adults, I go six quarts. Two pounds and I get another pot. Now, this much aqua demands a vessel of considerable volume, no?

1 lb Pasta      6 Qts H2O

Restaurant Supply Store - 2:16 pm

    All I want from a pasta pot is volume. Of course, since it's going to be home to anywhere from 8 to 14 pounds of boiling water, light would be a plus, too. My choice: commercial grade aluminum. It's light, it's strong, it's versatile and if you buy it in a restaurant supply store, it's pretty cheap to boot.
    And a pot like this is going to have a life well beyond pasta. Truth is, you can cook almost anything in it. But, beware of foods that are high in acid like, say, tomatoes. They don't get along real well with aluminum. But anything that cooks in water—pasta, potatoes, large batches of stock—this is your vessel of choice. But remember, in a place like this everything is a la carte. So, you'll need to pick up a lid separately.

The Kitchen

    Start with hot tap water and put it over high heat. Now is the time to add salt and I'm afraid that this is not an optional step. It's required. See, the pasta is going to take up a lot of water and this is the only chance you're going to have to get seasoning inside the noodles. Now, a lot of recipes suggest that you add salt depending on the amount of pasta. That just doesn't make sense to me. The salt should be a function of the water. I go with about a teaspoon per quart. Once it's dissolved it should taste kind of like seawater which is my general rule of thumb for all starches.
    Now, slap on the lid to speed up heating. This tankard should be up to a rolling boil in about 20 minutes. And do not add oil to the water, ever. It just floats on top like an oil slick. It doesn't do any good whatsoever. What does end up on the pasta will only make it harder for cheese, oil or sauce to stick.

    The two hallmarks of all pantry knighthood are versatility and longevity. Now with its near indefinite shelf life, dry pasta certainly fits the bill. It does have three enemies though: air, light and wee little creatures. You can avoid all three by keeping pasta not in its original package but in a tin like this canister or some other airtight container.

Wee Creatures

For a plate of spaghetti, he'd leave home.
For a woman? Never. --Mrs. Pavarotti

The Kitchen

GUEST: Anti-Alton

Photo Courtesy Means Street

     Now that we've got a big pot full of lots of boiling water take a spoon or tongs or some kind of implement in one hand and the pasta in the other. Now, I'm going with my favorite, spaghetti. Three ounces per diner, it's a good size average entree. I've got four servings here. Okay, pasta into the boiling water. Now, fan it out.

AB: Don't drop it in like a log.

    Immediately push the strands down into the water gently.

AB: Go easy or you'll break them.

    Now all this water is inflicting major changes on the proteins and starch on the outside of the strand. Now, my pet theory is that stirring at this stage is smart. I figure that all the bending around somehow affects the way the pasta takes water. So, stir for 30 or 40 seconds. Now we want the water to come back to a boil as quickly as possible so cover the pot at least part way until it's rolling again. Now, at that point you might want to turn it down just a little bit to avoid boil-overs.

Stir for the first 30 Seconds

Cover the Pot

Return to boil
Then reduce heat slightly

    Now, the reason that boil-overs happen is that, you see when the pasta goes into the water starch just floats off and starch allows the water to make and hold on to bigger bubbles. The bubbles stack up and bingo, boil-over. It's just another in a long list of reasons to use a big pot and a lot of water.

Boil Over

    Okay, total cooking time will, of course, depend on the shape and size of the pasta you're cooking.

Italian for "to the tooth" al dente describes pasta
cooked until it offers slight resistance.

    Now, you can safely walk away from your average long noodle, spaghetti, linguini, fettuccini for 3 maybe 4 minutes. But after that, you'd better stick around.
    Okay, 4 minutes has gone by. Time to start tasting. Now, there's no mystery to getting pasta right. We're not going to employ a medium or break out a Ouija board.  We're not going to throw it against a wall or smash it under a chair leg. We're going to taste it. The way we see it, pasta is like chicken. It's either raw, done or overcooked. It's that simple.
    Now, fish out one strand and hold it by both ends. Kind of tug it a little.  Does it stretch and bounce back like a rubber band? Then it's getting close. Give it a taste. If it's springy then you're past the crunchy stage but you still could be in the unappealingly chewy stage, the primary symptom of which is that it kind of sticks in your back teeth. These have a couple more minutes to go. Give them a stir.
    Oh, geez. I'm late for a party.

Suburbia - 11:05 a.m.

GUEST: Tupperware Party
            Ladies #1 & #2

     So, you've found the perfect pot for your pasta but say your colander looks like a hard hat with 6 holes drilled in the bottom. Ain't gonna work. See, it actually matters how the pasta drains. And believe me, I have gone to the ends of the earth to find the perfect colander. But, I finally did find it—at a party, no less.

Photo Courtesy Means Street

    Check it out. Beautiful. See these slots? They actually allow water to drain away faster than holes do which is great. Look for something that's got a nice, wide bottom so it will sit stable in a sink and if you're lucky, you'll find something with a perforated lid. Look at this. Snaps right on for easy shaking, no mess no worries. Perfect.

AB: Okay, ladies. Got to go. [continues to try and get up] Need to go ladies. Excuse me, ladies ... got to ... got to go.

Sauce/Anti Sauce
The Kitchen

    If you haven't made sauce arrangements up to now, now's the time, before the pasta is done. I think it was Don Quixote who said, "La mejor salsa del mundo es la hambre."*  "Hunger is the best sauce."

    Well, I can't speak for Cervantes but my favorite sauces aren't really sauces at all. They're more anti-sauces. Just thrown together combinations of other pantry favorites: capers, sundried tomatoes, red peppers, anchovies, every olive imaginable, nuts, hard cheeses like asiago, veined cheeses like gorgonzola, garlic, canned artichokes, little tins of smoked oysters, you name it, all held together by the stuff that, well I think holds the universe together, olive oil.

Capers        Sundried Tomatoes
Red Peppers        Anchovies
Olives        Nuts        Cheese
Garlic          Canned Artichokes
Smoked Oysters
Canned Tuna
More Cheese       Prosciutto
Dry Herbs        More Cheese
Dry Mushrooms             etc.

Olive Oil


    Now, the finest cold pressed oils are extracted by pressure alone. Extra virgin comes from the very first cold press and contains only 1% acid, which explains not only its fruity aroma and verdant color but its price. Now, this one is not for any high heat cooking, just salad dressings and dipping.

Extra Virgin
Pressure Only

    Now, virgin olive oil is also made from the first press and has a slightly higher acid content.

Slightly Higher Acid

    Regular straight olive oil usually contains a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil.

Olive Oil
Usually Blended

    Light olive oil has the same number of calories as other olive oils but due to additional refinement it's got a lighter flavor. Another result of that refinement is a higher smoke point. Unlike virgin olive oils which burn at a relatively low temperature, light olive oil can be used for pan frying, even sautéing.

Healthy but little flavor

    Now, light speeds up oxidation of oil so, either keep your bottle in a cabinet away from heat or store it in a can. This will keep it firmly in the dark.

The greener the oil, the fruitier the flavor


The Kitchen

    [takes a bite of the hot pasta] Umm, there's still a little resistance left, something for the teeth to get into. Yields, but only after a little bit of a fight. In short, it's neither a piano wire or baby food.

ANTI ALTON: [looks at ruined pasta]
AB: Aww, that's too bad. [snicker]

    Italians call this ethereal state, al dente. I call it 'done' ... a few minutes underdone, actually, which is what we want because its going to finish cooking in our shiny, new colander. Just slap on the lid and shake. Now, you don't have to shake it bone dry. A little surface water is going to help hold on to whatever we decide to add to it. Now unless you plan to refrigerate this for later use, don't rinse it. Washing will only remove the traces of starch that are waiting, Velcro-like, to adhere to whatever sauce walks by.
    Now, I want to coat my pasta, not smother it. So, I'm going to add a little bit of olive oil to the bottom of a large, warmed bowl along with about a teaspoon of raw garlic and then just toss it like a salad. The point is to coat every strand while it's hot and receptive to your advances. It's plenty hot to cook this garlic.
    Now as the pasta cools down really quickly. So, have some warm serving bowls waiting nearby. I'm going to add in some cheese, maybe some sundried tomatoes, a few nuts, a few grinds of black pepper. Now, how do you know if you have sauced successfully? Well, take a look. You don't see any oil in the bottom of the bowl. Pasta soaked it all up.
    You know, it's funny. Unlike other foods that wisely assume that we know how to eat, every book written on pasta seems compelled to give us eating instructions. There's fork only, spoon and knife, fork only ... I don't know. As far as we're concerned, the fewer the rules the better. You know, sometimes late at night I even eat pasta with my fingers. It's fun, too.
    You know, we hope the last half hour has changed forever the way you think of dried pasta. But, we'll settle for your promise not to ever let your pantry run out again.
    We close with a quote tossed out by a young, Italian actress named Sophia Loren to a group of photographers who were questioning her on her figure. She said, "Everything you see I owe to pasta."**  Clearly, Sophia knows a thing or two about good eats.

     Visit us on the web at

*literally it says, "The best of the world is hunger."
**my sources quote her as saying, "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti."

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010