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Carb-O-Licious! Grains, Pasta and Legumes Week 8 of Chef Class


By Rona Lewis
Photos by Cathy Arkle

Who doesn’t love starchy carbs like rice, pasta and grains? My hips and thighs aren’t always so happy with them, but my mouth LOVES them! As a rule, I don’t eat them a lot to keep my weight down, but every so often, a big plate of pasta with a fabulous garlicky sauce or bowl of creamy risotto with seafood can be heavenly. Tonight, we learned about most every kind of starch and bean you could imagine. I’ll tell you about the high points….

Rice
Rice is a staple for most countries around the world. There are a lot of different kinds of rice. We all know that there’s white rice and brown rice. Brown still has the bran attached (which makes it more nutritious) while white rice is polished-the bran is taken off-and it cooks quicker. White rice also has a neutral flavor and pairs well with tons of different additives.

Rice can be short, medium or long grained; the shorter the grain, the higher the starch content. Think risotto and Japanese rice for short grained rice. American has long grained like Texas and Carolina rice while Asia has Basmati and Jasmine.

I always cooked rice with 1 part grain, 2 parts water. WRONG! Different grains need different cook times. May explained the process of cooking white rice first:
1. Rinse the rice. It gets rid of excess starch.
2. Drain it well.
3. Put it in the pot. 1 part white, long grain and 1 ½ cups liquid (see what I mean? It’s almost NEVER doubled!)
4. A pinch of salt (if it’s not Asian style cooking)
5. Boil liquid, simmer for 15 minutes or so.
6. DO NOT STIR!
7. THEN, take it off heat, put a towel over the rice, then the cover. The excess steam gets absorbed by the towel so it stays fluffy!
I like that last part. This method works for all types of rice. HOWEVER…brown rice needs 2 ½ parts liquid to 1 part rice and the cook time is 35-40 minutes.

Rice pilaf originated in the Middle East and is started by sautéing the rice in some kind of fat and aromatics, then adding the liquid. Risotto is made like this, as well.

Like wild rice? Me, too. It’s indigenous to North America and cooks just like brown rice, except it’s not as starchy.

Legumes
Simply put, legumes are podded vegetables like peas, fava beans, etc. The starchier ones are beans and lentils. Put these with brown rice and you’ll have the perfect protein, albeit one with a lot more starch. The big thing I learned with these is that when you boil them to cook, you don’t want to put salt in until the beans are almost done. Salt toughens the beans, so if you add it ¾ of the way through, this won’t happen. Yes, you can use canned beans, but they’re usually mushier and saltier.

Grains
There are a number of grains you can eat to keep your meal interesting. Wheat berries are a variation of wheat and can be eaten like rice. Bulgur, which is cracked wheat, is terrific in pilafs and is a main ingredient in tabbouleh. Barley also cooks like rice and when its “pearled,” it’s just polished a bit so it cooks faster. Quinoa is one of my favorite grains. It’s really high in protein and it takes on the flavor of whatever you use to cook.

Pasta
Semolina is coarsely ground wheat used for pasta. Durham wheat has more protein and is used mainly for dry pasta. Dry pasta is best with oil based sauces, while fresh pasta is best with meatier sauces or ones with butter as the base.

With any pasta dish, it needs to be texturally compatible. Rich hearty pasta, like tagliatelle or pappardelle needs a rich hearty meat or veal sauce. Cappelini or spagatini needs a more delicate sauce. Shapes need sauces that will cling to them. Think Mac and Cheese. Don’t you just love how the cheese clings to those little elbows?

Some rules when cooking pasta:
1. Make sure that the water is at a rapid boil before you add the pasta.
2. Add lots of salt. The pasta only absorbs a bit but it brings out the flavor.
3. Do not add oil! The oil stops the sauce from sticking to the noodles.
4. Do not rinse and sauce immediately.
5. If the sauce is a bit too thick, scoop a touch of the pasta water over the sauce at the end.

Cathy had to make homemade gnocchi! Lucky her-it’s one of my favorites! Check out her side of the story on Cathy’s Blog!

I was assigned 2 universally loved pasta sauces this evening. Feel free to add your extras as your imagination dictates:
Basil Pesto
Serves 4
Ingredients:
4C basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
Pinch of salt
2 tbsps pine nuts
¼ C grated fresh parmesan cheese
½ C olive oil (Use EVOO)

I’m digressing from the original recipe here-I had to use a mortar and pestle to mash everything together. I guess I was pretending to be back in Italy in the 1700s. Please, just put everything in a food processor and blend until it’s almost a puree.

Bucatini All Amatriciana
Serves 4
Ingredients:
5 tbsps EVOO
5 ounces of pancetta, cut into ½ x ¼ inch strips
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
¼ tsp chili flakes
1 large can imported Italian tomatoes, broken up by hand
2 tbsps plus ¼ tsp salt
1 lb bucatini
1C freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat 3 tbsps of the olive oil in a heavy 2-quart pot over a medium high flame. Add the pancetta and cook 5 minutes. Fold in the onion and chili and cook 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook 10 minutes more. Season with ¼ tsp salt. Keep the sauce warm.

Meanwhile, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the bucatini and the remaining 2 tbsps of the salt and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Return the bucatini to the pot and fold in the sauce, ½ cup of the pecorino and the remaining olive oil. Add as much of the reserved cooking water as needed. Serve hot, sprinkled with the remaining ½ cup of cheese as a garnish.

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