How to cook pasta the right way is not as easily mastered as some might think. And there are a lot of pasta aficionados out there. According to data from the National Pasta Association, 2.7 million tons of pasta are consumed yearly in the United States alone.
Similarly, as many pasta chefs can attest, once good pasta cooking skills are acquired, the results can most pleasing for the discerning diner.
Make Sure the Cooking Pot is a Large One
A common mistake when learning how to cook pasta is to use a ‘recommended’ 4 quarts of water for every pound of pasta. But the best pasta chefs will use 5-6 quarts for each pound.
This gets the better results because the smaller water amount can cause pasta to cling to the side of the pot. With more water the pasta won’t be as sticky or thick and the texture and taste will be a significant improvement.
Adding Oil to the Pot is a Hindrance More Than a Help
Many cooks have learned to add olive oil to their cooking pot, presumably to prevent sticking. But the fact is that the oil can make the pasta too slick for any sauce to adhere to it properly.
If you are using 5-6 quarts of water and keep stirring your pasta as it cooks, it will not stick together. Bottom Line: No need to add oil to cook pasta the right way.
Salt Should be Added for Better Results
For the health conscious salt has become a no-no in recent years. Even cooks who do use it in preparation will limit the amount of salt to a pinch or two.
Yet how to cook pasta for the best pasta results would involve adding a sufficient amount of salt – usually a teaspoon-full for each gallon of water. Salt will eliminate some of the slickness and sliminess of the pasta thereby improving the texture.
A ‘salt exception’ should be noted in the case of ‘fresh’ pasta. No salt is needed because fresh pasta has a different surface texture than dried pasta.
In any case, pasta does not absorb the salt as in other foods and any intake is minimal.
Make Sure Your Water has Boiled Before Adding the Pasta
Impatience can be a problem when learning how to cook pasta the right way. Too often a cook will add the pasta to the pot before the water has come to a boil. The best-tasting pasta must be cooked in boiling water from the start.
Add the pasta to the pot when the water has come to a full boil. In some instances, it will stop boiling when the pasta is added so be diligent in getting the water boiling again as quickly as possible.
Adding pasta to cold water and then heating it guarantees that the results will be substandard.
Be Sure to Stir Your Pasta as it Cooks
Quality pasta needs to be stirred while cooking. This prevents sticking, especially with the thinner varieties. Stirring constantly ensures a more pleasing pasta meal.
How to Cook Pasta Without Overcooking and Undercooking
There can be many varying opinions on how long it should take to cook the perfect pasta.
True, this can be a subjective evaluation, with the only valid opinions belonging to those who are enjoying the meal.
Still, while acknowledging that taste is a personal experience, it should be noted that some cooks can undercook their pasta while there are others that overcook the dish.
Undercooking happens less frequently because undercooked pasta can be tough to chew. On the other hand, and more common, is the experience of overcooked pasta. Here the results are lumpy and shapeless and the sauce does not blend in well.
How to cook pasta the right way ultimately comes down to testing during the preparation. Most recipes and ingredient packages include a cooking time recommendation and you can begin a taste test with a minute or so to go.
Your pasta is ready to serve when it’s is moderately firm as you bite. The results should be firm yet not crunchy – known in Italian as ‘al dente.’
Now you and cut the heat and drain the pasta in a colander. The pasta continues to cook while it’s draining it in the colander, so when you are testing, remember that what you eat will be cooked for a minute or two longer than what you’re testing in the pan.
Lastly, shake the pasta to get rid of the water (particularly when your pasta is shaped in such a way as to catch pockets of water) and serve immediately.
Rinsing Your Pasta After Cooking Should be Avoided
Many aspiring cooks will rinse their pasta immediately after cooking. Unfortunately, this could spoil a good meal.
In the al dente phase your pasta should have the proper amount of starches for absorption of the sauce you will serve with it. This is precisely how pasta gets its flavor and any rinsing will ruin the taste.
Keep in mind, however, that you probably should rinse when you are cooking for a pasta salad in order to avoid stickiness. Similarly, when the cooking is done in a very small pot or pan there’s a possibility of too much starchiness. A quick boil might solve the problem.
You may have developed some bad cooking habits over the years or have simply been steeped in incorrect information. But these tips can be helpful for learning how to cook pasta the right way.
Try these suggestions and see for yourself. The difference could be considerable.