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In many recipes, you may come across a common confusion: when an ingredient list calls for “2 cups” of pasta, is it referring to cooked or uncooked pasta? This question often leaves home cooks wondering how to correctly measure two cups of uncooked pasta. In this article, we will clarify this matter and provide you with some practical tips.
Understanding Recipe Instructions
When a recipe lists 2 cups of pasta, it typically means dry pasta. However, in Free Press Test Kitchen recipes, we take care to specify whether you should use cooked or dry pasta. If we want you to use cooked pasta, we would explicitly state “2 cups cooked pasta.” Conversely, if we require dry pasta, we would mention 2 cups (or 8 ounces or 1 pound, depending on the recipe). Additionally, we offer instructions for cooking the pasta or refer to the package directions when necessary.
Measuring Different Pasta Shapes
Measuring short pasta such as bow-tie, rigatoni, and elbow is quite straightforward. However, when it comes to spaghetti and vermicelli, half of a 1-pound box typically amounts to about 2 cups. Alternatively, you can measure them by weight ─ roughly 8 ounces of short pasta (like macaroni) equals about 2 cups.
Determining Cooked Pasta Volume
The serving size typically listed on most dry pasta packages is 2 ounces. But what does that amount look like when cooked? The answer depends on the pasta’s size and shape. For instance, 2 ounces of dry pasta like penne or bow tie results in approximately 1/2 cup when cooked. The cooked yield can range from 1 to 1 1/4 cups, depending on the pasta’s size. According to Barilla’s website, longer strands of pasta ─ like spaghetti ─ will double in circumference when cooked. Thus, 2 ounces of long pasta usually yields about 1 cup of cooked pasta. As a rule of thumb, a 1-pound box of dry pasta yields around 8 cups of cooked pasta.
Importance of Salting the Water
One frequently asked question when cooking pasta is whether or not to salt the water. The answer is a resounding yes! By adding salt to the water, you not only season the pasta but also enhance the flavor of the dish. How much salt should you use? Renowned chef Mario Batali suggests adding enough salt so that the water tastes salty. On his website, it’s recommended to use 3 tablespoons of kosher salt for every 6 quarts of water when cooking 1 pound of dry pasta.
Utilizing Reserved Pasta Water
When cooking pasta, an additional tip is to reserve some of the pasta cooking water. This starchy water can be added to sauces, if used, to season and even thicken them if needed. The starch from the pasta water will provide extra flavor and thickness to your sauces.
In summary, when a recipe mentions cups of pasta without specifying cooked or dry, it typically refers to dry pasta. Remember to measure the pasta correctly based on the recipe’s instructions. Additionally, understanding the cooked yield of different pasta shapes will help you determine the appropriate amount for your dish. Lastly, don’t forget to salt your pasta water and reserve some for your sauces. Enjoy your pasta-cooking adventures!
Penne with Broccoli, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Dijon Cream (Recipe)
Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 10 minutes / Total time: 30 minutes
Cooking the broccoli for just 2 minutes keeps it vibrant green, eliminating the need for an additional dish.
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled, minced
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- 1 cup fat-free or regular half-and-half
- 8 ounces (about 2 cups) penne pasta or favorite short pasta
- 1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
- 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, place the minced garlic in a large heatproof serving bowl that can partially fit in the pot. Add the Dijon mustard to the bowl and whisk in the half-and-half. Set aside or place over the pasta pot to warm while the water is heating. Once the water starts boiling, remove the bowl.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until it is al dente, following the package directions. Approximately 2 minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli florets and sun-dried tomatoes. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove 2 cups of the cooking water. Drain the pasta, broccoli, and tomatoes. Place the reserved cooking water back in the pot and keep it on low heat.
- Set the heatproof bowl with the mustard sauce over the pot with the remaining pasta water. Add the pasta mixture to the bowl and toss it to coat and heat through. Drizzle with olive oil and add the cheese. Toss again to coat and heat through.
- Garnish your dish with a grinding of black pepper and a sprinkling of parsley before serving.
(Recipe from and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen)
Each serving contains approximately 320 calories, with 20% of calories from fat. The dish provides 7 grams of fat (including 2 grams of saturated fat), 51 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of protein, 437 mg of sodium, 6 mg of cholesterol, and 2 grams of fiber.
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