Friday, March 9, 2012

Pasta portions: Don’t go by the book

In today’s Washington Post "Cooking Off the Cuff," I describe a cauliflower-tomato pasta dish, and mention that I more or less halved the standard portion of dried pasta because there was lots of cauliflower and tomato sauce to eat. What did I mean by this? In the US, because pasta is sold in one-pound packages, a main-course “portion” is four ounces: too much, frankly, unless you’re eating it almost plain. In places where pasta is sold by the kilo or half-kilo, which is to say everywhere else on Earth, the standard portion is a little less: 100 grams, still a pretty healthy quantity if there’s something more to eat on the plate.

Anyway, whatever a portion of pasta is in your house, consider using it only as a starting point. If you’re eating your spaghetti with oil and garlic, or with a light tomato sauce or a few clams or mussels, by all means boil up the full quantity. But if you’ve devised a dish using a whole bunch of broccoli rabe and an onion or two and diced mozzarella and toasted croutons, believe me: you don’t need 100 grams, much less four ounces of pasta.

Visualize how much food you’re cooking and adjust the amount of pasta accordingly. If you miscalculate and aren’t full, then have a piece of bread or reach into the freezer for that pint (or 500ml) of ice cream.