Ever eaten stale, old pasta? Hopefully not, but there are a few ways to keep pasta fresh when served in a buffet setting.
Pasta becomes stale as it cools down and dries out. Keeping pasta warm and moist will make it remain fresh. Alternately, although this seems counter intuitive; rinsing it with cold water, adding a few ice cubes, and a few drops of olive oil will keep it fresh.
There are more means of how to keep pasta from sticking in a buffet. Continue reading to learn how restaurants serve pasta and how to keep it fresh in your home setting!
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How To Keep Pasta Warm for a Buffet
The easiest way to keep pasta warm and soft in a buffet setting is to leave the pasta in its cooking pot on a hotplate. The downside is that it continues to cook and will get a bit squishy if left out for too long. It’s fine to do at home when family members are serving themselves over the course of 15-20 minutes. Restaurants tend to avoid such a system because customers will be eating the same batch of pasta perhaps as long as four hours later.
There is a word, “molto al dente,” which is Italian for slightly undercooked pasta. The reason for leaving pasta undercooked is because it is going to cook a little more once it’s on the plate with fresh steaming sauce. Whether using tomato sauce for spaghetti, cheese sauce for mac & cheese, or a French recipe using sauteed vegetables with oil, vinegar, and spices- pasta is a delicate base which will catch the steam from the sauce and resume cooking.
Serving Pasta Cold at a Buffet
Because the sauce is going to start cooking the pasta again, restaurants tend to keep precooked pasta “al dente” when cooked ahead of time and served to order. The same concept works well at home. It’s easy to serve hot pasta at a sit-down formal dinner, but if friends and family are eating at different times over the course of the afternoon and evening it might make more sense to keep the sauce hot and chill the actual pasta noodles.
The way to serve cold pasta is to rinse it with cold water as it finishes cooking. To make sure the cooking process is completely finished, a few ice cubes can be added to the pot as well. Olive oil is then added to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other. There is a fine balance to adding enough oil to prevent sticking and adding too much, making the dish greasy in texture. The solution is to add just one or two drops at a time, stirring it in, until the pasta resists becoming sticky.
Cold Pasta Dishes
Not all pasta dishes are intended to be served hot. When pasta is the main course, it’s usually served hot, but there are also recipes for pasta to be served as a salad, hors d’oeuvre, or side dish. Such recipes rely on stopping the cooking process at the appropriate time, by removing the pot from the heat and rinsing it with cold water. Such dishes tend to incorporate ingredients which should never be heated. Mayonnaise, sour cream, boiled eggs, iced shellfish, a bed of lettuce, or any other regular salad dressing can be delicious with cold pasta.
Any of these ingredients can be part of a pasta salad served cold, but should never be mixed with pasta which has any remaining heat from the cooking process. Again, rinsing the pasta with ice and cold water cools it quickly. Adding the proper amount of olive oil, or perhaps a walnut or almond oil if suitable for the recipe, will keep the noodles from sticking to each other. The idea of not using too much oil becomes much more important with dishes intended to be served cold on the plate as opposed to serving cold pasta which will be covered with steaming hot pasta sauce.
Other Ideas and Recipes for Pasta
Pasta is an all around perfect base for any number of dishes. To some people, “pasta” means spaghetti. Others think of lasagna when they hear the word. It’s also an integral part of Asian cuisine, Indian recipes, and is important to American Hispanic diets. Every culture enjoys pasta. Chicken noodle soup from a can is pasta, as is a children’s dish which adults love called mac -n- cheese. For the gourmet connoisseur who enjoys more “adult” recipes, spinach noodles, twisted pasta noodles, and home kitchen pasta making machines are available.
A further consideration about serving pasta at a buffet, whether hot or cold, is the presentation of the dish. Professional chefs and servers have understood this concept since the first restaurants were invented, food presentation is an important part of every meal. At a buffet, it can bring an air of casual informality to the meal if the pasta is served directly in the pot it was cooked in. For a more conservative approach, it makes more sense to put the pasta in a decorative bowl, p[late, or serving dish which matches the other china being used for the meal.
There are other ways to dress it up a bit, perhaps adding fresh vegetables or spice sprigs as garnishes to draw attention and add color to the dish rather than simply serving a bowl full of noodles. Having an appetizer beforehand helps put guests in a good mood to enjoy the entree, but might be difficult in a buffet setting.
A final note about food presentation at a buffet is how interesting it can be to see how others serve their own meals. One person might use more or less sauce on their pasta than other people, someone else might add salt, pepper, or even ketchup to the dish. These are ideas worth taking note of as serving suggestions for future meals which may or may not be buffet styles.