We’re getting back to the basics for this month’s Eat Well, Spend Less; and I’ve chosen to show you some “secrets” to cooking pasta like a pro.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m practically an Italian when it comes to cooking pasta. I’d be really nervous if I had to cook for Mario Batali. But, I’ve learned some tricks that make cooking great pasta easy:
1. Use a big enough pot.
Forget adding oil to the water or placing a spoon across the top of your pot. The best way to keep your pasta from boiling over is to use a big enough pot. There should be several inches of space above the water line in your pot to allow it to boil vigorously without boiling over.
2. Use plenty of water.
Pasta sticking together? This is usually the result of not using enough water for the amount of pasta you’re cooking. Use about four quarts of water for one pound of pasta, stir it occasionally (especially when you first add it to the pot), and you will have much less trouble with it sticking together.
Except for maybe fettuccine. I swear dried fettuccine sticks no matter how much water I use!
3. Add salt to the water.
Add a tablespoon or so of salt to the boiling water just before you put the pasta in. This is about the only chance you have to get flavor into the pasta – once it’s cooked, you’ll only be able to add flavors to the outside of the pasta.
A tablespoon sounds like a lot, but remember that the salt will dissolve into your four quarts of water, and only a small portion of that will actually be absorbed into the pasta.
4. Never rinse pasta.
The starch that’s on the outside of cooked pasta helps sauces stick to it much better. If you rinse it off, your pasta will become slippery and slimy and your sauces will not cling to the pasta.
5. Use the timer for proper cooking.
The “proper” way to cook pasta is al dente which means “to the tooth”. There should be a little bit of bite left in the pasta – the very center of it should sort of resist your tooth as you bite through it. If you overcook it, you’ll be left with a texture-less mess that can’t stand up to the sauce.
The only way to really know if the pasta is done is to taste it – you must taste the pasta to determine doneness! But, if you’re like me and tend to lose track of time, check the pasta package direction to see how long it’s recommended to cook, and then set the timer so you know when to check the pasta. Don’t automatically assume it’s done when the timer dings, but it’s helpful to be able to set it and forget it while it cooks instead of constantly worrying about overcooking it.
6. Toss the pasta in the sauce.
Particularly if you are serving pasta with a creamy sauce or pesto, try putting the pasta into the sauce and tossing it around with tongs, and then serving. This evenly distributes the sauce throughout the pasta, rather than putting a blob on top, and usually results in much less sauce consumed.
7. Reheat leftover pasta with boiling water.
If you have leftover pasta, don’t put it in the microwave – just boil a pot of water and either add the cold, cooked pasta for about 30 seconds, then drain; or put the cold, cooked pasta to a strainer and pour the boiling water over it. It will taste a whole lot closer to freshly-cooked pasta than reheating it in the microwave!
Eat Well, Spend Less – Back To The Basics
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