The fine art of cooking pasta just might be the most discussed topic in my kitchen! I witnessed an Italian Mamma cooking pasta pretty much everyday of my life from birth to age 21…it is almost ingrained in me. All my senses know exactly what it should taste, smell, feel and look like…! I JUST KNOW… and living and travelling to Italy often helps as well!
First of all you need to start with good quality pasta. If it is the dried variety then I prefer an imported Italian pasta. Italians just make better pasta…. there are commercial varieties and artisanal varieties. If it is fresh pasta then homemade is always better. I would rather use dried Italian pasta than commercially made fresh pasta. The expiry date alone tells me there are loads of preservatives in it. I don’t even need to check the ingredients! Take a class with us if you wish to learn the art of fresh pasta making, it is not as hard as you think!
Secondly, you need a large pot filled with water. In order to cook a 500 gram or 1 pound package of dried pasta you will need at least a 5 litre or 4.4 quart pot. Fill the pot at least 80% full and bring to a boil on high heat with the lid on.
Once it comes to a full, rolling boil, I add the salt. (in my kitchen it is always added right before adding the pasta so there is never a question as to whether or not anyone added salt…) This is where it gets interesting…how much salt? If cooking pasta is the most discussed topic in my school, then how much salt to add to pasta has to be the most controversial! I add a heaping tablespoon to this size pot….Let me explain….Are we consuming the water and therefore all the salt? No! Most of this salt is going right down the drain when we strain the pasta right? Think of it this way….in order for the pasta to be seasoned properly with salt, we have to over-season the water. The water should taste like seawater to properly season the pasta. (if I am using a pot I am unfamiliar with, I will taste the water after adding salt) The pasta will only absorb some of the salt. This in itself is a fundamental of cooking pasta. If you get this wrong….. an Italian will recognize with their first bite…. that you, my friend, do not know how to cook pasta! (just say’in!) Chefs get sent home in cooking competitions for this all the time!
Okay, now add the package of pasta and give it a stir with a wooden spoon. The lid is off from now on. Set the timer for the manufacturer’s minimum recommended time. This listed time is a great place to start. They want you to cook it perfect so use this to your advantage. (if you are cooking your own homemade pasta, taste is the best indicator after 1-2 minutes) Now stir it occasionally so it doesn’t stick. No need to add oil to the water. Good quality pasta will not stick if you stir it occasionally and oil will cause your sauce not to stick when dressing the pasta. Once 3/4’s of the time has passed, start tasting it. You will need to do this numerous times. Taste and mouthfeel are your best indicators. You should be able to bite through it easily but it should still have a firmness to it when it is ready. We call this, “al dente” or “to the tooth”. There should be some flavour, if it was seasoned properly. If not, it won’t taste like much.
Once the pasta is cooked, strain it in a large colander waiting in the sink. I never rinse pasta as the starch helps the sauce adhere and rinsing cools down the pasta. If you need some of the cooking liquid, keep a heat proof measuring cup in the sink and fill it before straining the pasta. Either add the pasta back to the pot if your recipe requires further cooking (you may wish to undercook the pasta to compensate for this) or add the pasta to a serving platter with some sauce added to it. Dress the pasta with enough sauce to coat it but not drown it! Serve extra sauce on the table for those that prefer more sauce.
I serve most pasta with chillies and cheese added at the table unless it is a seafood pasta….now that’s a whole other blog! Enjoy!
Ciao for now! Natalina