Several of you have sent in questions about food and cooking and today I will tackle them.
Q. What is the criteria for selecting a fresh pineapple? I see them at the store, but walk right on by as I am not sure how to pick out a good one.
A. Your first clue is fragrance. If it smells like a pineapple, it will taste like a pineapple. If it has no aroma, it will have little flavor. In addition to the fruity aroma, it should feel heavy for its size as weight indicates juiciness. The leaves should be bright green and crisp, and the fruit should have no soft spots. Spongy spots would indicate over-ripeness or perhaps even decay. Look for a pineapple that is greenish-yellow with golden overtones.
A. Cooking pasta should be such a simple thing. Some recipes say to add salt to the water when cooking it, but others do not. What does the salt do? Also, why do you add oil to the water when boiling pasta?
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A. The simple things are most confusing. Pasta should be cooked just until tender, or al dente, not overcooked until it becomes mushy. When I took cooking classes in Italy, Chef Claudio had some very specific thoughts on pasta. First, he insisted you always add plenty of salt to the water so the pasta will taste good. His instructions were the water should be as salty as sea water. However, with that said, for those on a low sodium diet, omitting the salt only affects the flavor.
The chef was also adamant about not adding oil to water when boiling pasta. When the water is kept at a rolling boil, it will not stick if stirred occasionally. Adding oil to the water makes the surface of the pasta slick and the sauce will not adhere to the pasta. When oil is not added, the sauce sticks to the pasta and makes it taste better.
Q. Lately all the whole garlic I buy has green sprouts growing on the inside of it. I have bought it at different stores and it all is like that. What is going on with the garlic?
A. Your fresh garlic is really not fresh, but old garlic and probably last year’s crop. Your garlic is sprouting because it is trying to grow. The green sprout will make the garlic taste very strong and bitter. I remove the sprout and go ahead and use the garlic. It is not as sweet and flavorful as really fresh garlic. Right now it might be the best you can find in our supermarkets. Other alternatives are to grow your own or to purchase fresh garlic when it is available in our local farmers markets.
Q. Is there a walnut shortage? The chopped nuts are getting harder and harder to find lately. Have I missed something?
A. I have not noticed a walnut shortage. However, I have noticed the price of walnuts and pecans have increased drastically over the past year. I usually purchase walnut halves, not the pieces. Perhaps the supermarket has quit carrying the chopped walnuts. That happens frequently.
I did do some research and found that black walnuts were more scarce as the drought had affected the harvest. Black walnuts are wild and harvesting is dependent upon enterprising people to gather them and take them to the plant for processing.