Italian Pasta Cooking GuidePosted: August 12, 2013
We spent the last week soaking up the sun in beautiful (and HOT!) Cabo San Lucas. But, knowing that I owed everyone a post, took my info along for the cooking pasta installment. Unfortunately the resort did not offer free wifi (can we please get with the times Sheraton??), though each room was allotted 30 minutes a day. Oh, did I mention you had to haul your sunscreened “cookies” to the lobby for that? To the lobby. Who wants to do that? Especially when we’ve got mid morning margaritas poolside!
This is a very basic Italian pasta cooking guide. I can tell you that there are so many opinions out there about cooking pasta, I was confused and didn’t know what to believe. This being so basic made it very clear for me and corrected some of the mistakes I had been making. I hope it clears up any confusion anyone else has, too!
Oil: The first tip is something I’ve always done, added olive oil to the water to prevent the pasta from sticking. Which doesn’t actually work, and if you use enough water, it won’t be an issue anyway. Instead, use that olive oil for drizzling over the sauced pasta for a final hit of flavor (unless using a butter- or cream-based sauce).
Pasta: 1 lb of dried pasta can generally serve 4 to 6 people as a main course, depending on whether the sauce is light (such as a simple tomato sauce), rich (creamy Alfredo), or bulked up with other ingredients such as vegetables, meat, or seafood. Also, sauces that are smooth or have very small bits, such as garlic and oil, are best with long strands of pasta. Chunkier sauces are best matched with short tubular or shaped pastas.
Water and Pot: For 1 lb of dry pasta you’ll need 4 quarts of water. Less water can result in the noodles sticking together in one big clumpy mess (yes, this has happened to me). You want to use a pot that is at least 6 quarts, which helps you avoid boilovers. Dont forget the salt! Adding salt to the water is important for good flavor. I have always underseasoned the water, not knowing that you need 1 Tbs table salt (or 2 Tbs kosher salt) for 4 quarts of water. If you are worried you are going to forget the salt, add it directly to the box of pasta as you take it out of the pantry. Finally, don’t add the pasta to the water until the sauce is almost ready.
Draining Pasta: Don’t forget to reserve some pasta water to thin the sauce. A tip to remember this is to place the measuring cup in the colander at the start of cooking. That way, when you go to drain the pasta, there is no way you’ll forget! Also, since pasta has a tendency to cool quickly, it’s a good idea to warm the serving bowl. Here is a great trick: if you’re using a large serving bowl, put it under the colander while draining the pasta. The hot water will heat up the bowl which will keep the pasta warm longer. Once the pasta is drained, shake the colander a couple of times, but not to the point that the pasta is bone-dry. The little bit of cooking water that clings to the pasta will help the sauce coat it.
Sauce: I’ve always just dumped the sauce on top of the mound of pasta and proceeded to fight the pasta to get the sauce mixed. This always left me frustrated and pasta that wasn’t very well mixed. The best way to handle all of this is to transfer the drained pasta back to the hot pot and add just enough sauce to coat the pasta evenly, along with enough reserved pasta cooking water to thin the sauce slightly, if needed.
Pasta Fork: It’s finally time to eat! Grab your plastic or stainless steel pasta fork and start serving!
*Derived from Cook’s Illustrated
- 4 Quick and Easy Pasta Sauces (williams-sonoma.com)
- Pasta Buying Guide – Italian Pasta (serves4.wordpress.com)
- Easy “Penne alla Puttanesca” (ickk.wordpress.com)
- Italian Pasta – Indian Style (matterofart.wordpress.com)