How To Properly Cook Pasta
I love these types of articles, because I know that there are some people out there who may or may not know how to cook pasta properly and they have been doing it for years. My hope is that you will find this advice helpful on your journey to becoming a better cook.
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If you want a brush up on fresh pasta, check out our write-up on it here.
How To Cook Dry Pasta
The first thing you need to do is assess how much you are going to cook. We measure pasta in its dry weight, not its cooked weight. Pasta tends to double in size and weight when cooked.
The formula for weight-to-water is as follows:
500g (1 lb) of pasta needs 4L (1 gal) of water.
The amount of water is very important as it disperses the starches that come off the cooked pasta during cooking and also allows the pasta to freely move in the pot, avoiding sticking.
Season the water with salt to your taste. Doing so as the pasta cooks allows the salt to be combined with the pasta. Adding salt after the cooking process does not have the same seasoning effect.
Adding Oil to Boiling Water
There is no good reason to add oil to the water. Some say it helps avoid sticking, or reduces foam on the surface. Oil, by nature, does not mix with water. What it ends up doing is staying on the surface of the boiling water, never encountering the pasta being cooked. This does nothing and it certainly does not help avoid keeping pasta unstuck. You can avoid foam by adding the proper amount of water as this will help disperse the starch or reduce the temperature.
There is also the claim that it is useful when you drain the pasta because then it helps the noodles remain unstuck in the colander. Well, not only is there a minuscule amount of oil that may perhaps stick but all the oil that does stick hinders the adherence of the sauce to the noodles.
There is no good reason to add oil to pasta water.
Cooking the Pasta
Add the pasta once the water is boiling rapidly. Be sure to stir immediately as the introduction of the pasta will reduce the temperature below boiling. Stagnant pasta will stick to each other. Once the water begins to boil again, you can confidently walk away knowing it will not stick together.
Determining doneness on your pasta has some flexibility. However, the leniency is small. Al dente means “to the tooth”, meaning it is soft but still has a firm bite to it. Undercooking will produce a hard center that is undesirable and overcooking the pasta will result in a mushy pasta.
If you are planning on serving the pasta immediately, drain and wash the pasta in warm to hot water to remove the starches. Do not toss with oil as this will interfere with the sauce sticking to the pasta.
If you are planning on using the pasta at a later time, or if you want to save your left-overs, drain and wash with cold water then toss with oil and immediately store in the fridge. Once you are ready to finish the pasta, dunk it for 30 seconds in boiling water to reheat and remove the oil and serve.
How To Cook Fresh Pasta
Cooking fresh pasta is almost identical to cooking dry pasta with a few differences. Determining doneness remains the same however the water should not be rapidly boiling as this can cause the delicate pasta to fall apart. A strong simmer is preferred. Fresh pasta absorbs salt much more readily, so take that into account when seasoning your water.
Fresh pasta, depending on the size, takes much less time, sometimes 30 seconds or less, to finish. If you overcook fresh pasta it can fall apart or become mushy.
Fresh pasta tends to stick to each other after cooking and benefits quite a bit from rinsing with hot or cold water, depending on when it is being served.
Cooking pasta is simple, but all simple things must still be rooted in strong fundamentals. Applying these rules to your pasta cooking will result in a consistent and delicious dish that you can count on every time.