So for tonight’s dinner, you’re cooking pasta. Brava. You should think ahead because it’s not just about boiling some water and throwing some dried pasta into it. There is so much more to it than that. Here are some rules (of course there are) when cooking pasta in no particular order.
Let’s find out if you’ve been doing it wrong (giggles) all these years…
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Thou Shall Never Break the Spaghetti – E-V-E-R
It’s well known it is bad luck to break dried pasta. Now, whether that is true or not… I’m not taking the chance. Gary’s nonna would be shaking her head at me (even though we never met) and I don’t want a bad reputation or karma. It doesn’t matter if it’s ridiculously long. The pasta was produced in that size and way for a reason. Use a large pot to hold enough water (see further down for more on this).
Thou Shall Abide by Proper Serving Size
Thou Shall Not Add Any Oil to the Water
There is no exception to this commandment. When cooking pasta, if you add oil to the water, you’re sauce will never adhere to the pasta. Never… it’s just not done.
Thou Shall Add Salt
Salt should always be added only when the water has begun to boil. Tis the salt that addeth the flavor to your pasta – no matter what shape it is. It will also aid in the texture. Do not use iodized table salt, which is tongue-tinglingly salt and gives food a bitter taste. Among the kosher salts out there, there’s a big difference in the size and shape of the salt crystals. Two popular brands are Diamond Crystal and Morton’s Kosher. Out of these two, Diamond has flakier, irregular crystals, whereas Morton’s are rounder and pebbly. To achieve the same level of saltiness, you would use nearly twice as much Diamond as Morton’s. Use two tablespoons of Diamond or four teaspoons of Morton’sf or every 4 quarts (or gallon) of water.
Thou Shall Prepare Al Dente
In cooking pasta, “al dente” describes pasta (or even rice for that matter) that is cooked firm to the bite. There is nothing worse than mushy pasta. Did you know that overcooked pasta can raise the GI index which is not great news for your heart or waistline?
Cooking Pasta Continues…
Thou Shall Save Some Pasta Water
The starchy cooking pasta water is essential for helping to bind whatever sauce you are using. Just before you drain the pasta, save about a half cup of starchy water. Adding even just a quarter cup of starchy pasta water to the sauce, will thicken the sauce and help it bind to the pasta. I always save a little more than I will probably use – just in case.
Thou Shall Use Correct Shape Pasta
Were you aware that different pasta sauces call for a specific shape of pasta? It’s not a hard rule anywhere but in Italy. If you are following a recipe though and it calls for a certain shape of pasta, you should try the recipe that exact way. An example, use tagliatelle with your Bolognese. In Bologna, home of this famous ragu’ sauce, tagliatelle is always used – never spaghetti. It holds the sauce better, leaving you with a clean plate.
Thou Shall Finish the Pasta in the Sauce
This is one of the most important of the ten commandments. And guess what… is rarely done. You should pull your pasta when it’s almost but not quite finished, and then immediately add it to your sauce over low heat. You want to toss your pasta in the sauce and cook them together for the last minute or so. This gives the pasta a chance to absorb a little bit of the sauce and more fully integrates the two. It’s a small thing that makes a huge, huge difference.
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Thou Shall ‘Scarpetta’
At the end of the meal, when all your pasta is gone, feel free to “Fare la scarpetta.” This term translates literally to “make a little shoe” and refers to the practice of cleaning your plate with a bit of bread.
Thou Shall Try Making Fresh Pasta
It’s not as difficult as you think to make fresh pasta from scratch. It tastes so good and you can have fun with kids making it together. Once you get the technique down, it’s easy! You don’t even need a pasta maker to do it (see photos below). A machine can help when it comes to rolling it out and cutting, that’s for sure. But… it can be accomplished with a rolling pin, patience, and a knife.