So, here's the dealio. Summer is a-cumin' in which means I'll be eating (garden goddesses willing) tons of cucumbers and tomatoes. Because I don't have the best teeth, I tend to eat them pre-chopped in a huge variety of salads and fresh salsa-like toppings that I dump on other food.
One of the best salad options for mixing with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs is, of course, pasta salad. Cook the pasta, mix with fresh stuff, Bob's your uncle.
However, I typically eat whole wheat noodles. There's a dietary reason that I'm not very invested in, and a practical reason that I'm stuck with: for complex sociological reasons beyond the scope of this post, I have about a hundred pounds of whole wheat noodles in storage. Specifically, rotini. I'm such a tightwad it's tough for me to spend money on other pasta when I've got this huge surplus of the one kind.
I make a lot of pasta salad with it in the summer, but no matter how I cook it, it's dense and chewy and tends to be dry, soaking up every kind of dressing or coating without really getting soft or slippery. No matter, it's still good food. However...
I recently had a leftover serving of somebody else's pasta salad made from a box mix/kit. It was, of course, white noodles, plus a metric shit-ton of oil (they used peanut oil, the box just said "vegetable oil") and the result was a salad full of fluffy, soft, wet-feeling, slippery noodles that were a bigger pleasure to eat.
One solution is obvious: change my noodles and use lots more oil. However, I don't really want to do that. I prefer to use oil quite sparingly (it's calorie dense and so am I) and I have all these whole wheat rotinis.
No power on earth is going to make my whole wheat rotinis as soft and fluffy as white noodles marinated in oil. I know this. But I'm wondering: are their culinary tricks that would bend the arc in that direction a meaningful distance?
I'm planning to experiment with making better noodles this summer, so I figure now is the time to solicit brainstorming suggestions. I figure on trying several different things:
1) cooking the noodles longer and with more water. I've already tried this to an extent without seeing much difference; even when they seem so fully hydrated that they are ready to fall apart, the cooked whole wheat noodles are still rougher and dryer in the mouth. Plus, after a day in the fridge they seem to slurp up their internal moisture reserves and be right back where I started. This can't literally be true but it seems to be the case.
2) Adding stuff during the cooking process. One obvious experiment is oil; perhaps not a lot, but maybe cooking them with oil in the water would help more than dumping it on as part of the dressing. Otherwise, I dunno -- are there ingredients/tricks for cooking softer, wetter, whole grain pasta?
Dan Boone wrote:Thanks for any suggestions anybody may have.
Have you tried any dressings that contain vinegar? I've noticed that when I made the mayo with Balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice that seemed to produce a softer wheat pasta more similar to white pasta.
If you use bottled dressing, you could add a tiny amount of flavored vinegar and see if that makes a difference.
Gail Gardner @GrowMap
Small Business Marketing Strategist, lived on an organic farm in SE Oklahoma, but moved where I can plant more trees.
Gail, I believe you may be onto something with your vinegar suggestion! FineCooking.com suggests using vinegar in the cooking water to make pasta less sticky:
When pasta is cooked in alkaline tap water, calcium and magnesium ions in the water can cause the pasta to release more starch, making it sticky on the surface. Adding a tablespoon of vinegar to the pasta water acidifies the water and reduces stickiness. This is helpful when using pasta in a salad, where stickiness is undesirable, and the flavor of the vinegar just blends in with the tartness of the dressing.
And this "food hacks" site suggests pouring vinegar directly onto hot drained pasta to make it more absorbent, when making pasta salad:
Once your pasta is done, quickly drain it and then return it to the pot. Do not run it under cold water! Next, evenly sprinkle your vinegar of choice over the pasta and toss well until it's all absorbed. The acid in the vinegar and the residual heat from the cooking pasta make the noodles more absorbent so they'll really soak up the flavor from your dressing, whether you use a mayonnaise-based one or a vinaigrette. Plus, the vinegar adds a nice tang that balances out the richness of said dressing.