like most foodies out there, i love Italian food – pasta, pizza, rissotto – you name it. many times, i would want to rustle up a quick pasta meal, and go the full mile, but only to realise that something didn’t taste quite right. while the pasta in restaurants would be cooked to that perfect consistency, mine would either be a bit hard or too soggy. i did finally resolve this issue by searching for tips on how to cook pasta – and for the first time, i realised that many of the things i had been doing were wrong! among the mistakes were: adding the pasta into the water too early, adding oil to the water used to boil the pasta, and dunking the pasta in cold water after draining the hot water.
when i followed the instructions from my search religiously, i was finally able to get pasta done to the al dente stage – when its firm yet tender. yipppeee!! so, for all of you out there who haven’t yet cracked the code on cooking pasta, here is the masterlist of tips 🙂
– measure the pasta you need. pasta generally doubles in size when cooked, so 1 cup uncooked = 2 cups cooked.
– fill a large stockpot with water. the more water, the better – pasta tends to stick if cooked in too little water.
– add salt to the water – salt makes pasta taste better, and won’t increase the sodium level of your recipes. as a thumbrule, use 1 teaspoon per gallon of water – or just throw in as much as you want!
– bring the water to a good, rolling boil – this means a boil you can’t stop by stirring. do not put in the pasta until this stage.
– slowly add the pasta to the boiling water. this is to ensure that water continues to boil while you add in the pasta – ideally, the water shouldn’t stop boiling, but if that happens, it’s ok. it will regain the heat soon enough if it was already boiling away.
– stir and stir some more! pasta will stick together if it isn’t stirred during the crucial first moments of cooking. don’t worry, the pasta won’t break.
– regulate the heat so the pasta/water mixture doesn’t foam up and over the pot sides – but this doesnt mean turning the heat up and down over and over again. lower it the tiniest bit, and everything should be under control. even better, use a big pot in which your water comes to about half to three-quarters of the height.
– start timing when the water returns to a boil. most pastas cook in 8-12 minutes. if you are very paranoid about the timing (there’s no harm in being concerned you know!), you can buy a pasta timer/indicator from the stores – i have seen one that has concentric circles that light up at different temperatures, with the corresponding pasta types on them. quite cool eh!
– the best way to tell if the pasta is correctly cooked is to taste it. take out a piece and cut into it – there should be no solid white in center, just a shading to more opaque cream. another way is to pop the piece in your mouth – it should be firm, yet tender, with a tiny core in the middle. it might take a couple of times of testing before you decide you pasta is ready.
– when cooked, drain the pasta into a colander lift the colander and shake off excess water or allow the water to drain off naturally.
– if you are making a hot dish, do not pour any cold water over it – this will remove the starch and make it difficult for the sauce to stick to the pasta. however, if you are making a cold salad, go ahead and rinse the pasta. that should bring down the temperature, and make it more suitable for the dressing, and make it less sticky as well.