Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Useful things: pasta insert

A pasta insert, sometimes called a cooking colander, sits inside a saucepan or stockpot. It makes it easier to cook things in boiling water because you can just pull out the insert when its done and the water drains away back into the pot. It's perfect for blanching vegetables before freezing them; you can zip them quickly from hot water to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. It also lets you reuse the cooking water for another batch. You can also use the inserts to steam food by boiling water just below the bottom and covering with a lid. They are typically steel (shown at left, IKEA 3 quart STABIL, $8), although there are also silicone ones which nicely collapse for storage (shown below, Oxo Good Grips silicone collapsible colander, $30).
Oxo Good Grips Silicone Collapsible Colander, Red

It doesn't need to be expensive. This is a basic utility piece--it just needs to be the right size and get the job done. It should fit comfortably inside your pot and still allow you to use the pot's lid.  Resist the urge to buy a big one, too. I made that mistake last year, thinking that I'd be processing a lot of food. But it's better to blanch in small batches, to keep from accidentally cooking the veggies too long because they overwhelm the ice bath. Now I've got a nice 5 quart size that suits the job just right.

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