Rigatoni

Rigatoni (ree-gah-tOH-nee) is a large, tubular-shaped pasta. Rigato means with lines or ridges, so most all rigatoni, which is one of the largest tubular pastas in the maccheroni family, has ridges on its outer surface. It comes in a few different sizes, but the two constants connected with rigatoni are the ridges and its hollow shape. In Italy, rigatoni also goes by the name of denti di cavallo, which translates to “horse’s teeth.”

The idea of the ridges on the pasta goes beyond aesthetics however, since the ridges help to pick up and hold some of the sauce, which is a distinct advantage in any case when it comes to pasta shapes and types.

On the other hand, the cooking of pasta does not necessarily relate to shape or type at all, rather a few simple steps-10 in all–so let’s have a refresher course on the proper way to cook pasta.

Perfect Pasta Cookery

1. Always start with a quality brand of pasta, one that is made with 100 percent durum semolina flour.

2. Pasta must be cooked in plenty of boiling salted water. Figure 4 to 5 quarts of water and I tablespoon of salt for each pound of pasta.

3. Salt the water (pasta is inherently a bland product) as suggested above, after the water comes to a boil. The salt adds flavor to the pasta; it does not encourage the water to boil sooner, as some cooks seem to believe.

4. Plunge the pasta into the rapidly boiling water. As soon as the pasta softens a bit give it a good stir.

5. When the water comes back to a boil (putting a cover on the pot speeds this up), stir the pasta again, and once or twice while it is cooking.

6. Never put oil (of any kind) in the cooking water. It just makes the pasta slippery, destroys the pasta-starch connection, and ultimately prevents the bonding of the sauce and the pasta.

7. Pasta will never stick together if you use a quality brand of pasta and cook it in plenty of water.

8. Drain the pasta as soon as it is al dente. It will continue to cook a bit due to its interior heat, so don’t push it to the limit.

9. How do you know when pasta is perfectly al dente? The best way is to bite into it. Al dente-to the tooth-is the ultimate test. (Cooks who prep a lot of pasta can also tell by look and feel.)

10. The only time cooked pasta should be rinsed is when it is to used for a cold pasta salad. The reason for not rinsing pasta otherwise is that the fine film of starch that rises to the surface of the cooked pasta actually enhances the flavor and helps the sauce to cling to the pasta.

Pasta Prep

Once the pasta has been cooked and drained, spread it out on a sheet pan. Separating the pasta in this manner allows it to cool faster and prevent further cooking through heat transfer. Allow the pasta to cool. Cover the sheet pan with plastic. Date stamp. Place in the cooler.

An option, after the pasta has cooled, is to scale and portion into individual servings.

To order, drop the pasta into a hot water bath (no salt in the water bath, since the pasta has already gone through that step) just to heat it through. Drain, sauce, serve.

When I am working the line as the pasta cook, I like to finish a pasta dish mantecata, that is, add the cooked pasta to the sauté pan into which a ladle or two of sauce has been simmering. By doing it this way the pasta has a chance to blend with the flavors of the sauce.

Rigatoni is a versatile cut of pasta in that it works beautifully with almost any type of sauce — marinara, Bolognese (meat), cream — and can be paired with seafood and vegetables, as well as baked.

Rigatoni al Filo di Fumo
Serves 4 as a pasta course

This is an adaptation of a dish served at Topo Gigio, a favorite restaurant of mine in Chicago. The “filo” designation in the recipes comes from the thread or string that the cheese forms in the finished dish. The “fumo” part is originally related to the use of smoked mozzarella, which can be used in place of fresh mozzarella if desired.

1/4 pound pancetta in a chunk about 1/2 inch thick

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 cups canned plum tomatoes (no juices), crushed

1/2 cup frozen peas

1 pound cooked rigatoni

1/2 pound shredded or chopped fresh mozzarella

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Pare the rind from the pancetta and cut the meat into a small dice. In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, cook and stir the pancetta until it starts to get crisp around the edges.

Add the oil to the pan. Put the garlic through a garlic press into the pan. Add the tomatoes and peas. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce, breaking up the tomatoes with a fork or spoon.

Add the rigatoni to the pan with the tomatoes. Immediately add the mozzarella and toss to combine.

Divide the pasta among four heated pasta bowls. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese over each serving.

Rigatoni con Asiago e Spinaci
Serves 4-6

The idea behind this dish is that the spinach gets “cooked” only from the ambient heat of the pasta. This is an excellent dish to serve family style, or as part of a pasta buffet.

12 ounces fresh spinach, washed, heavy stems cut off, leaves torn

1/2 pound Asiago (or Fontina) cheese, shredded

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1 pound rigatoni

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large serving bowl, combine the spinach cheese, olive oil, garlic, and pepper. Toss to combine.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain. Working quickly, add the pasta to the bowl with the spinach and cheese. Toss to combine. Add the Parmesan and toss again.

Note: I can change the flavor profile of this dish by adding chunks of grilled chicken.

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