The Importance of Cooking Pasta Just Right

In my last blog I wrote about how important it is to cook garlic correctly.  The other important aspect to preparing the perfect pasta dish is learning how to cook pasta just right.  You must be committed to the process.  In other words, once the pasta is placed in the boiling water, you need to stay close to the heat.  Even if the box of pasta has 15 minutes given as the cooking time, that does not mean you can put the pasta in the pot and leave for 14 minutes.  If you did, you’d probably return to a block of stuck together unevenly cooked pasta.  The following instructions should help you obtain that perfect al dente pasta:

<strong>What you will need:</strong>

A 4 Gallon Pasta Pot

A Pasta Scoop

Salt

The type of pasta that you use for a particular dish can be important.  When I use the word pasta as an ingredient, it means that virtually any pasta of your choice will work for that dish.  However, I would not suggest using angle hair pasta with any of the following sauces unless it is specified.  That is because angle hair needs a more liquid sauce to coat it properly than regular spaghetti or penne.  There are certain dishes such as “Pasta Primavera” or “White Clam Sauce” where I specify angle hair because you want the vegetables or the clams to take center stage and those recipes, accordingly, have more liquid ingredients.  Most of the recipes in this book emulate the way pasta is prepared in Italy.  The sauces are made to coat the pasta not overwhelm it.  Most of the calories in a pasta dish come from the sauce not the pasta itself.  In this country we tend to over-sauce our pasta to a point where real Italians don’t recognize them.  Perhaps that’s why Italians are so healthy while we ban pasta as a no-no from our own diets.

To cook your pasta to perfection you will need to purchase a proper pasta pot.  Fill the pot almost to the top (allow for the addition of the pasta).  Add 2 tablespoons of salt for every pound of pasta.  Bring water to boil.  Using the lid will make this happen faster.  Add salt to water and make sure it is vigorously boiling before adding the pasta in a spiral formation.  Quickly stir the pasta with a Pasta Scoop in an ‘up and around’ action in order to separate each and every piece so that no two pieces are sticking together.  Repeat the stirring every two or three minutes. You will need your entire sink in order to strain the pasta properly so in between one of your stirrings, clear out your sink. This needs to be done before the pasta is ready for straining because the time it takes to clear the sink is the time it can take to over cook your pasta!

When the pasta looks like it’s coming down the home stretch, usually a good five minutes less than what the instructions call for, you need to start testing each time you stir.  Testing entails plucking one piece of pasta out of the boiling water and biting into it.  This process is made much easier if you own a pasta scoop.   When it gets really close to being done, start testing every minute. The pasta is done when you bite into it and it is still just a tiny bit crunchy in the center.  Remember that it will still continue to cook for at least another minute or two while you go through the straining process.

As soon as the pasta is done place the entire pot in your sink.  Lift the strainer part of your pot up and out of the water.  Run cold water over the pasta to slow down the cooking.  The best way to do this is to wear rubber gloves so that you can toss the pasta from the bottom up so that it all gets hit with the cooling water.  It is very important at this point to take your time and shake the strainer vigorously up and down and then side to side.  Make sure every drop of liquid is drained out before combining it with the warmed up sauce.  Any bit of water remaining on the pasta will dilute your sauce and consequently ruin its flavor.

Many other cookbooks will tell you to add oil to the water.  I do not agree with this.  I think this is a bad practice that was developed for people who don’t have the proper equipment.  In smaller pots the oil helps to keep the pasta from sticking together.  I find that if you cook it in the way described above, it is really totally unnecessary.  Common sense tells us that a properly dried, non-oiled piece of pasta will always hold sauce better than an oiled one.

<strong>Exception: </strong>The only time when I would suggest using oil in the cooking water is on rare occasions when your cooking a large amount of pasta ahead of time and intend to reheat it just before serving.