Pressure Cooking Pasta

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In the heyday of early pressure cooking, recipes using pasta were commonplace, but the technique was lost and forgotten. While your grandmother may have known how to cook pasta dishes in the pressure cooker, many new users are left in the dark when it comes to cooking pasta and recipes made with macaroni and similar products.

There is a small time savings in cooking plain pasta in a pressure cooker, but its best used in combination recipies such as casserole and one dish meals. Unlike the usual method of cooking pasta in a pan of boiling water, pasta in a pressure cooker requires only the amount of liquid that the pasta will absorb to become soft. The rule of thumb is to use just enough water, or a flavoring liquid like broth, to just barely cover the pasta. If cooked with meat there is no need to add additional oils or fats to minimize foaming. If there is no meat in the recipe, or very lean, low-fat meats such as fish or poultry are used, then add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil or other fat.

The second generation pressure cookers with their heavy, three ply bottom is best for cooking pasta dishes because they minimize the chance of scorching. As in the case when cooking any foods that expand, foam or froth, use a pressure cooker that is 5 quarts or larger and do not exceed the halfway full level. Always remember to adjust the heat to the lowest possible setting after the cooker comes to pressure. Learn more about the Five Formulas For Foods That Foam, Froth Or Expand and the Ten Rules of Pressure Cooking.

Mexican Pasta Pot (One Pot Meal)

1 lb. ground beef
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained  
1 (10-ounce) can Mexican-style tomatoes with green chilies
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 packet taco seasoning mix
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a 6-quart or larger pressure cooker, brown ground beef over medium heat until it crumbles. Pour off the drippings. Stir in the bell pepper, onion, beans, and the tomatoes with green chilies, tomato sauce, taco seasoning and garlic. Add the pasta and just enough water to barely cover the pasta. Lock the lid in place.  Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure.  Cook 6 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the cheese over top.

Measuring Pasta

Most dried pasta doubles in volume when cooked. The general rule is one pound of dry pasta or freshly made pasta will serve six as an appetizer or four as a main course. The Food Guide Pyramid defines 1/2 cup cooked pasta as one serving. When purchasing pasta as a main dish, plan for two ounces of pasta per person, although hearty eaters may prefer four ounces. Use 1 ounce for each serving of pasta used as a side dish serving. The chart below shows the number of cooked cups from eight ounces of uncooked pasta. To measure short pasta for recipes, use measuring cups intended for dry ingredients,those are measuring cups that do not have pouring spouts. To measure accurately using a liquid measuring cup (one with a spout), do not fill past the 8 ounce line.

Why Does Pasta Foam?

You need the intense heat of boiling water to "set" the outside of the pasta, which also prevents the pasta from sticking together. Pasta added to water before it starts to boil will be mushy because it a quickly begins to break down as the starch dissolves. Pasta releases a starchy substance (the foamy bubbles that form at the edge of the pan) while it's being boiled. A spritz of oil around the rim of the pot, and the inside of the lid, or 1-2 tablespoons added to the cooking water will help minimize this.

Storing, Freezing and Reheating Pasta

Dry, uncooked pasta can be stored in the unopened package or in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place. Non-egg pasta for up to three years and egg pasta up to two years. The age of the pasta can be determined by reading the date coding information on the packages.

Cooked pasta, or refrigerated, ready-to-cook pasta must be refrigerated. Toss each pound of cooked pasta with one tablespoon of vegetable oil to keep from sticking and refrigerate in a covered container for three to four days. For best quality, refrigerate pasta and sauce in separate containers.

Time-starved cooks benefit by preparing pasta dishes ahead of time and freezing. Combination dishes with sauce freeze best. Freeze up to two months.

To re-heat cooked pasta, place several portions in a metal colander and immerse in pot of boiling water for one (1) minute. Drain and serve as desired. Or, microwave single servings of cooked pasta. Place on microwave-safe plate, cover with sauce, then plastic wrap. Microwave 30 to 60 seconds.

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