7 March, 2014
Posted in : Pasta, Technique, Tips on by : dave Tags: how to cook pasta, pasta, starch, techniques, tips
Use these tips and tricks to cook perfect pasta every time!
- It all starts with the water. No, it doesn’t have to be bottled from a spring, but there does need to be plenty of it. Pasta needs to move around freely to cook evenly and prevent clumping. Always cook pasta in a large pot with a lot of water. Rule of thumb: approximately 6 quarts (24 cups) of water for every pound of pasta.
- Salt. Please, for the love of Mario Batali, salt your pasta water. Do not try to salt your pasta after it’s cooked. It won’t work. I usually do about 1 – 2 tsp. of salt per 6 quarts of water. I use Kosher. You don’t have to. But you do have to use some sort of salt. Any salt. Salt the darn water. Get it boiling. Add your pasta. Stir. And let cook. I could stop this list now and if you followed just these first two tips, you’d be okay. But, I don’t want you to make okay pasta. I want you to make amazing pasta. So, keep reading.
- Some people will tell you to add oil to the water while cooking pasta to keep it from sticking together. You should stop listening to these people. The oil will stick to the pasta and give your pasta an unappetizing sheen and oily coating. Your sauce will also have a hard time sticking to those greasy noodles. When cooked and treated properly, pasta doesn’t need oil to keep it from sticking together. If your pasta sticks or clumps together, you’ve done something wrong. Throw the pasta in the garbage and start at the beginning of this post.
- Throw the pasta against the wall – if it sticks, it’s done. But, actually, not. It’s overdone. By the time pasta is gummy enough to stick to your wall, it is most certainly well past al dente and already gooey mush. As with anything in the kitchen, taste as you cook. That’s the only way to tell if your pasta is done.
- While we’re on the topic, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, al dente. Most likely because I just used it in the previous point. Pasta should be al dente. But, what the heck does that mean? Al dente means “to the tooth” in Italian. That doesn’t mean the pasta should stick to your teeth. It means the pasta should have some resistance to it when you bite into it. It shouldn’t be super soft and mushy. It also shouldn’t be crunchy. Al dente is hard to describe, but you know it once you’ve achieved it.
- Never rinse pasta after cooking. Not only will the pasta get cold, but it’ll also lose its thin layer of starch. The starch is what helps sauce cling to the noodles. The only exception to this rule is if you are making a cold pasta salad, in which case, go ahead and rinse the noodles.
- So, you’ve use plenty of salted water. Cooked your pasta al dente. Drained, but not rinsed it. Now what? Well, first, before you drain it, reserve some of the pasta cooking water. It’s full of flavor and can be used as part of a sauce. Sometimes it aids in thickening a sauce; sometimes it helps thin a sauce.
- Sauce. Pasta is not a castle so it doesn’t need a moat of sauce. Corny? Yes. Accurate? Absolutely. I won’t get all preachy about how “real Italians” do it, (because I’m about 1/4 Italian), but I will say, pasta inherently tastes better when it isn’t served underneath a pile of sauce. Right after draining your noodles, add your prepared sauce to a pan. Get it hot. Add your pasta and toss to coat. That’s it. Garnish and serve.
- Smooth, simple sauces with smaller than bite size cut ingredients fit best with long noodles. Chunky veggies or meats go better with shorter and huskier pastas, like rigatoni or penne.
- Don’t forget – fresh pasta cooks faster than dried pasta.
- As for portion control. If pasta is the main course, figure about 4 ounces per person. Pasta generally comes in one pound boxes – that will serve 4 people. If you’re serving pasta with a protein, like chicken Parmesan, figure 2 ounces per person.