Not just a matter of price

Is there any difference? Dried pasta from delis versus supermarkets.
Is there any difference? Dried pasta from delis versus supermarkets. 

What's the difference between dried pasta in supermarkets and the much more expensive dried pasta in delis? G. Preece

It's all about friction and roughness. If you run a piece of more costly artisan spaghetti through your fingers, you will notice that it has a slightly rough surface compared with its cheaper counterpart. The inexpensive pasta is made by forcing a paste of durum wheat flour and water through a plate with holes in it, also known as a die. To push through a lot of pasta faster, these dies are made from non-stick teflon. They allow the pasta to flow through quickly and give the end product a smooth finish. More costly artisan pastas are made with old-fashioned bronze dies. The bronze offers more resistance, which causes friction that, in turn, generates heat. This causes the protein in the flour to reform, giving a chewier texture. The friction also leads to a rougher surface on the pasta, which holds the sauce better.

We caught cuttlefish the other night. What should we do with them? A. Kortus

Ocean's bounty: cook cuttlefish over hot charcoal for a Spanish-style feast.
Ocean's bounty: cook cuttlefish over hot charcoal for a Spanish-style feast. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Buy beer. Fire up the barbie with a hotplate and have a cuttlefish feast. Clean the cuttlefish by removing the cuttle (the chalky white piece inside - feed this to the budgie), remove the guts and head, then rinse. Use some salt to rub away the outer skin. Cut the dome-like body into two flat pieces. Sprinkle with salt and fry on the flat grill with some extra virgin olive oil and lemon, but not too hot because you want to leave a bit of sauce. After a few minutes of cooking on both sides, sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and serve. Cuttlefish steaks! Alternatively, chop the body and legs into pieces, roll while still wet in semolina and deep fry. A favourite method on the Atlantic coast of Spain in Huelva is to cook the whole, fresh, uncleaned cuttlefish, with just its cuttle removed, over hot charcoal. The taste is intense and rich but absolutely wonderful with beer or a glass of chilled fino.

What is the best way to cook vegetables in an outdoor wood-fired oven? F. Benson

Those ovens are funny beasts. Despite being made of brick, sand and concrete, they seem to have personalities of their own, with hot spots, cool zones and short windows of opportunities to cook certain dishes. Because of this, expecting to serve a variety of dishes from a wood-fired oven at the same time is asking for disappointment. My mate Adrian has great wood-fired afternoons over which a multitude of dishes are served, often into the night. When the oven is quite hot, consider cooking vegetables that are best cooked quickly, such as whole beans, flat mushrooms or asparagus. Preheat a heavy ovenproof dish in the oven, such as a cast-iron tray or a terracotta pot; toss the vegetables in some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place them in the dish and cook for a few minutes until the skin on the green vegetables scorches a little and blisters. At these high temperatures, try finely sliced potatoes brushed on either side with melted butter and cook laid flat on a heavy aluminium tray until golden. As the temperature drops a little, consider cooking medium-chopped harder vegetables, such as fennel, carrots and onion, in a deeper pot with a little water, wine, salt and herbs. If you mix sliced chorizo with some unevenly cut potatoes, the fat from the chorizo, perhaps, with a splash of white wine, will keep the potatoes moist while the exposed fine edges of the potato will crisp. As the oven cools, cook whole unpeeled beetroots directly on the hearth, or let a big covered pot of vegetables, such as eggplant, onion and tomatoes, stew slowly in the dying heat. Cooking in a wood-fired oven gets better as you learn how it can change with the wind and weather.

What do I do with overripe bananas? M. Thompson

Put overripe bananas in the freezer and when you want to make a banana cake, pull them out an hour before making the batter. The skin protects the flesh from freezer burn. Use them straight away because they deteriorate rapidly once defrosted.

MORE COVERAGE: Five ways with overripe bananas

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