6 Rules for Cooking the Perfect Pasta

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Cooking pasta is as simple as boiling water, but cooking the perfect pasta is certainly never as simple as that. You can help your pasta recipe by following these 8 rules of cooking the perfect pasta.

Rule #1: Use a large pot.

The first mistake people make when cooking pasta is the size of their pot. Pasta needs a lot water and space to cook properly. A small pot with too little space and too little water will make the pasta clump together and cook unevenly.

It is recommended to use at least 4 quarts of water for every pound (16 ounces) of pasta that you will cook. That means you will need a pot that holds about 5to 6 quarts of water. The pasta should be able to fit in as well.

Rule #2: Use cold or cool water.

Be sure to start off with cold or cool water. Hot water dissolves impurities and contaminants present in your pipes faster than cool water. If that water encounters a rusted or an old leaded pipe before coming out of your kitchen sink, it can very well end up in your glass or in your food.

Fill your big pot ¾ full of cold water or at least 1 quart of cold water for every 4 ounces of dried pasta. Four quarts is the minimum amount of water for every 12 ounces of dried pasta. However, 6 to 8 quartz is ideal.

Rule #3: Add salt to the water after it comes to a boil.

Put a lid on the pot with cold water to help bring it to a boil faster. Do not add salt to the water until it has come to a full boil. Adding salt raises the water’s boiling point, thus making the water boil longer.  Salt also dissolves faster in hot water. Undissolved salt crystals can mar the surface of your pot.

Add 2 tablespoons coarse salt for every pound of pasta. Salting the water brings out the natural flavors of the pasta. This does not significantly increase the sodium level of your recipe. Very little salt stays with the pasta when it is served as much of the salt stays in the water. Nevertheless, people following a sodium restricted diet should follow their doctor’s orders before adding salt.

Do not add any type of oil. While the oil may prevent the pasta from sticking together, pasta cooked in oily water will become oily itself. As a result, the sauce slides off and does not get absorbed. Thus, you end up getting flavorless pasta.

Rule #4: Add the dried pasta all at once to the boiling water.

Add the pasta all at once and keep the heat on high to bring back the water to a full boil faster. Adding the pasta before the water boils results in a mushy pasta. This is because pasta breaks down faster in tepid water as the starch dissolves. The intense heat from boiling water sets the outside of the pasta, preventing it from becoming mushy and sticking together.

Stir the pasta with a wooden spoon, tong or spatula after adding it to the boiling water. This prevents the pasta from sticking together and from sticking to the bottom and edge of the pot. Stir the pasta frequently to help cook it evenly.

Do not add pasta in batches as this will result in uneven cooking time. Don’t mix pasta types in one pot as well. You don’t want to end up with a mushy macaroni while your penne is still half-cooked.

Rule #5: Cook the pasta no more than what is on the package.

Start timing when the water comes back to a boil. Most pastas cook for 8 to 12 minutes. Test pasta for doneness after about 4 minutes by tasting it. To be sure, take a piece of pasta from the pot, bite off a piece of it and chew it in your mouth. Pasta should be “al dente” or tender but firm when you eat it. It shouldn’t be soft or overdone or have a hard center.

Turn off immediately the gas stove once pasta has reached the al dente stage. If using electric heat, take off the pot from the stove. Add about ½ to 1 cup cold water to the hot water with the pasta. This will immediately lower the water’s temperature and stop the pasta from cooking further.

Pasta should boil in less time when cooking for baked dishes, boil the pasta until it is flexible but still quite firm, about 1/3 of the normal cooking time. You don’t have to cook the pasta all the way through because it will be cooked again when it is cooked in the oven.

Rule #6: Drain pasta immediately.

Don’t let the pasta sit in water once it’s cooked as it will go soggy. Drain the pasta immediately into a colander standing in the sink. Then pick up the colander and shake off the excess water.

Do not rinse pasta unless the recipe says so. The starch that makes the pasta stick to each other also helps  the sauce to stick to the pasta. This should not be a problem if you’re going to toss the pasta immediately with the sauce.

One exception though is when using wide pasta like lasagna. If you don’t rinse the pasta, you will have a hard time separating the noodles without breaking or tearing them.

Do not over drain pasta, except when saucing with thin and brothy sauces like seafood and fresh tomatoes. Pasta must be moist to combine well. AS soon as it is drained, remove the pasta from the colander and return it to the pot or place it in a warmed serving dish. Once it is in the pot or in a bowl, use a fork and spoon and toss it with the sauce.

Remember that pasta should be prepared just before serving it. So don’t keep your pasta sitting around once it’s cooked. BE ready to serve up the pasta and its sauce once it’s cooked. And keep these rules in mind and you’ll have perfect pasta every time.


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