Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Parboil and Pasta

The invitation is still open--if you have a food term you wondered about, put it into the Comments below and I’ll attempt to de-mystify it. I have been getting such terrific feedback from readers about these posts. I am grateful you are reading, learning, and enjoying this month’s focus. There are way too many terms to deal with in a month, so I am going to do at least one post a month on some of the others.

Today is P Day. And P is for Parboil.
Parboil is not that hard to understand. It is harder in the execution, however. Parboil simply means to boil something (often a veggie) so it is partially cooked. Aye, there’s the rub.

How much cooking? What is “partially cooked”? For parboiled potatoes, for example, you want the fork to go into the outer edge easily but then hit the resistance of the raw potato. Rice should be firmer than al dente.

You kind of have to practice this so you don’t end up with mushy foods at the second cooking. Most of the time, we don’t parboil. We just cook the initial food longer. But it does speed up dinner prep if you have done some pre-cooking of the ingredients, so I’m more likely to parboil for a dinner party.

Did you know that “instant rice” is parboiled then dried out so it cooks faster? Instead of spending lots of money, make your own instant rice to store for quick dinners or backpacking meals.

Also, I discovered a recipe I just love for a quicker risotto that uses parboiling to cut the cooking time in half. This recipe is great for weeknight dinners, but I still do my normal 1-hour risotto for company. It is better when slow-cooked!

P is for Pasta
You know I love pasta. When I wrote Mission Impastable, my culinary mystery, it allowed me to showcase some of my pasta recipes. (I use my punny titles to give the reader an idea of the focus for most of the recipes in that mystery.)

Oh, my! So many pastas, so little time. Contrary to urban myth, Marco Polo didn’t introduce pasta to the Italians after picking it up from the Chinese. Lots of cultures at that time (the ones who had wheat) had developed forms of pastas. He might have brought back a shape they didn’t know, but the Italians already had pasta invented. Pasta, is after all, just flour, eggs, salt, some oil, and water. The word pasta means “dough”!

Back in the day, I didn’t own a pasta maker. I rolled and cut my uneven noodles and draped them over kitchen chairs to dry. Ah, yes, those were the days, my friends. If you are into making your own, try this simple recipe.

Pasta comes in many shapes. Pasta is either rolled and cut or extruded into a shape. Each shape is designed to highlight the use. Some pastas hold on better to thinner sauces and some onto thicker. Some shapes are meant to hold ingredients within the shape.

Clever folk, right, to take the same recipe and get so many variations and therefore different dishes and tastes.

Here are types of pastas and a couple of examples of each--there are MANY more:
long pasta (rolled/cut or extruded)--spaghetti; fusilli (corkscrew)
ribbon-cut--fettucine; lasagna
short-cut extruded--cannelloni; macaroni
decorative pasta--farfalle (bow tie); orecchiette (ear-shaped)
minute pasta--orzo (rice-shaped);  alfabeto (alphabet letters)
stuffed pasta--ravioli; tortellini
irregular shapes--gnocchi; spaetzle
For a more complete listing:


  1. I had no idea about instant rice being parboiled and dried again. Is that what happens with instant oatmeal and the 3 minute version? I'm learning so much with your posts!

    1. Groats are steamed to soften them before pressing between rollers. The more you steam them and press them, the thinner they get and the more quickly they cook as a result. Not parboiled, really, but oats do have steamed water in them pressed out, along with more nutrients. I'm glad you find this interesting, Sandy. Me, too! lol

  2. Sharon, This is my favorite post of yours yet. I love the myth debunking, and I love Pasta....yay! (

    1. Your blog is very interesting as well, but I gotta say I ventured from your alpha letters to read about Istanbul. We'll be there next month for the first time, and I am so excited. Loved all the info you provided!

  3. I still remember masking egg noodles at my grandmother's house and laying them out on sheets on top of her bed. We also made sausage and peirogies for the holidays.

    1. LOL Yeah, those noodles take up room! But, like everything else, fresh is so much better. And fresh noodles cook in a couple of minutes! Thanks for coming by. Hope to see you again.