How to Cook Pasta.
I have cooked a lot of pasta in my lifetime.
A lot! Enough to wrap around the world. Okay maybe not that much.
Sounds easy enough and seems obvious but here are a few little tips and tricks that may make all the difference:
1. Choose your pasta. There is nothing wrong with pasta that comes in a box. In fact, many sauces need a dried pasta that will be able to stand up to the weight of the sauce. With so many delicious choices on the market finding a tasty pasta is both easy and inexpensive. If you decide to go the fresh pasta route, know that cooking times are much less than boxed pasta.
2. Read the directions. This is a really important step. Each type of pasta has a specific time for cooking. The folks that make the pasta know exactly how long each type of pasta should be cooked according to the size, shape and thickness of the pasta. Making sure that you follow the recommended time on the box (not overcooking or under cooking it) will be the most important step to making good pasta.
3. Use a timer. I use a timer and set it religiously when making pasta. The time takes out all the guess-work with no need to watch the clock. If your pasta is going to spend any additional cooking time in an oven or in a pan when the sauce has been added, then I would suggest that you cook it for a minute or so under the suggested time. This will help balance the cooking time and ensure your pasta is not overcooked or mushy.
4. Get the right cooking pan. Pasta should be cooked in a large pot that has room for plenty of water. A large stock pot or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is ideal. The pot should be large enough to hold 4-5 quarts of water. Any smaller and you run the risk of pasta sticking which is not pretty.
5. The Salty Sea. After you have chosen your pot, be sure to fill it with water just below two to three inches from the top of the pot and add a large pinch of sea salt. Having enough water is crucial. A pot with too little water will not have enough liquid for the pasta pieces to swim freely causing the pasta pieces to stick together. Pasta that is stuck together does not cook evenly or taste very good. Adding salt at this step is also key. You always want to flavor each layer of a dish and that includes the pasta. Bring the salted water to a boil and then add the pasta.
6. The right utensils. Stirring your pasta with the right utensil can make all the difference between a lovely pasta that holds its shape and pasta that is broken in pieces and looks like mush. When cooking your pasta you do want to stir it often and make sure that the pieces do not stick. A wooden spoon is the ideal utensil as it is gentle, and the shape won’t break or cut into the pasta.
7. Oil or No Oil. There are two schools of thought on adding oil to your pasta while it is cooking. Some say “do” as it prevents the pasta from sticking. Others say “don’t” as it coats the pasta and will not let the sauce stick to the pasta. I find that stirring the pasta frequently keeps any sticking from happening just fine. I have also found that the oil actually does prevent some of the sauce from being absorbed into the pasta. I suggest that you try this out and see what you works best for you.
8. Know When to Add Sauce. Once you have cooked the pasta, drain it in a colander and be sure to let all the water drain out. You may want to save a bit of the cooking water to add it to the sauce if your sauce is too thick. The cooking water is flavorful, hot and easily absorbs into the sauce. Very important – Drained pasta should be added back to the cooking pan and then sauce should be added. This is when you toss or stir your pasta (remember your wooden spoon!) allowing each piece of pasta to be coated evenly and allowing the sauce to be absorbed by the pasta. Pasta that has absorbed a sauce tastes a thousand times better than pasta that has been dumped on a plate with a spoonful or two of sauce ladled over the top.
I hope that these little tips and tricks will help you to make delicious dishes.
As always, share with someone you love.
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