It's hard to think of a better cupboard standby than dried pasta, a staple swiftly turned into bowls of goodness.
Let's get one thing straight: as awesomely dependable as dried pasta is, it's by no means simply the poor cousin of the fresh stuff that you only pull out when you don't have the time to make pasta yourself. It's a related but different product with particular charms of its own. To best understand them, buy better pasta. The difference of a few dollars can mean a vast step up in quality. Cook your pasta in plenty of well-salted water (adding more salt afterwards never quite works), and do as the Italians do and err on the side of cooking less rather than more. Make ours al dente.
Linguine with chilli, lemon and crab
Cook 300gm dried linguine in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (8-12 minutes), then drain, reserving 100ml water. Meanwhile, warm 150ml mild extra-virgin olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 4 thinly sliced red birdseye chillies, and the finely grated rind of ½ lemon, and cook until garlic starts to sizzle (20-30 seconds). Add pasta and pasta water and toss to combine. Add 300gm spanner crab meat, gently toss to combine, season to taste and serve with lemon wedges.
Penne with tomatoes, cream, coppa and rosemary
Cook 400gm dried penne in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (10-14 minutes), then drain. Meanwhile, heat 60ml olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add 80gm coarsely chopped coppa, 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves and 2 tbsp coarsely chopped rosemary and stir until coppa is starting to colour (2-3 minutes). Add 400gm canned tomato polpa (if it's unavailable, substitute canned crushed tomatoes) and 185ml pouring cream and bring to the simmer. Add pasta, scatter with finely grated parmesan and roasted chilli flakes, season to taste, stir to combine and serve.
Tofe with mushrooms, white wine and crème fraîche
Stand 10gm dried porcini in a bowl of 125ml cold water until plump (20 minutes). Squeeze excess water from porcini, then chop and set aside, reserving mushroom water. Cook 350gm tofe (or another small, shell-shaped pasta such as conchiglie) in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (10-12 minutes). Meanwhile, heat 50gm butter and 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over high heat. Chop 300gm mixed mushrooms into bite-size pieces, add to pan and stir occasionally until golden brown (3-5 minutes). Add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves and porcini and stir until just fragrant (1 minute). Deglaze pan with 120ml dry white wine, bring to the simmer and reduce by half (2-4 minutes). Drain pasta and add to mushrooms along with 140gm crème fraîche and enough reserved mushroom water to form a sauce. Season to taste, toss to combine and serve scattered with parmesan.
Stellini with asparagus and tarragon in brodo
Cook 250gm stellini in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (5-7 minutes), then drain and set aside. Meanwhile, bring 600ml chicken stock to the boil in a saucepan and season to taste. Heat a frying pan over high heat, add 30gm diced butter, 1 garlic clove finely grated on a mandolin and 2 bunches thickly sliced asparagus and stir until asparagus is just tender (1 minute). Divide asparagus and stellini among serving bowls, pour stock over, season to taste, scatter with grated parmesan and a few torn tarragon leaves and serve.
- Though some obsessives are very specific about matching pasta to sauces, similar shapes are typically interchangeable. Watch your cooking times, though; the best test is always your own teeth.
- Long pasta is best suited to a sauce that coats it smoothly (think carbonara and spaghetti) whereas short pasta is best teamed with a chunky sauce, such as ragù Bolognese.
- With most sauced pastas, it's a good idea to take the pasta out of the water when it's still a bit more al dente than you want it and then finish it in the pan, giving it a good stir, so it soaks up plently of the sauce.
Want more options for dried pasta? Check out some of our favourite pasta recipes.