Who doesn’t love a great plate of pasta? Cooking pasta is not difficult…but a lot of people do struggle to make that perfect dish. Many find their pasta to be too hard, too soggy, too salty, too gluggy or it just sticks together!
Cooking pasta is about paying attention to detail. You can help your pasta dish to be its best by knowing a few of the hows and whys of cooking pasta.
Let me teach you how to cook the perfect pasta.
For every 100g of pasta boil about a litre of water. The reason for so much water is that the pasta doesn’t reabsorb the starch. It is also easier to submerge long cuts of pasta like spaghetti and it helps to reduce sticking by giving the pasta enough room to move around. If your pasta is sticking together or to the pot, it’s probably because you are not using enough water.
Add approximately 10g of salt for every litre of water. It’s necessary that you salt the water before adding the pasta so that the pasta can absorb the salted water while cooking and retain flavour. A little salt in the pasta water can go a long way, adding flavour to your final dish. Once the pasta is cooked, you have lost your chance to season the pasta.
Whatever you do DON’T ADD OIL! Your pasta won’t stick by adding oil, but you’ll find that the pasta will become oily itself, and as a result, the sauce slides off and doesn’t get absorbed. This is how you end up with flavourless pasta.
Make sure that the water is boiling before you add the pasta. Adding the pasta to water that isn’t boiling will actually increase your overall cooking time and will cause the pasta to sit in the water longer, resulting in the pasta absorbing too much water and giving it a mushy texture.
So, how do you know when the pasta is cooked? You need to keep checking until it becomes “al dente” which translates from Italian as ‘to the tooth’ but simply means you should need to use your teeth to chew it. As you get close to the end of your estimated cooking time, taste the pasta. If it is undercooked, it will be too hard and chewy. Overcook it and your noodles will be limp and soggy. Note that once you decide the pasta is done, it will take you several seconds to turn off the stove, lift the pot and pour the contents into the colander. During this time, the pasta continues to cook, so begin testing for doneness 2 to 3 minutes before the end of the suggested cooking time on the packet of pasta.
If you are cooking fresh pasta, it will only take between three to five minutes (depending on the type of fresh pasta) to cook. Once it has risen to the top of the pot it’s ready to be strained.
Reserve some pasta water. After pasta has cooked keep a cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta. The pasta water contains essential starch that can be used later to adjust the consistency of the sauce. With oil based pasta dishes, such as pasta al aglio e olio and pasta carbonara hot water helps to create a sauce and with thicker sauces, it helps to develop a smoother consistency.
Whatever you do, don’t rinse the pasta. Pasta should never, ever be rinsed for a warm dish. The starch in the water is what helps the sauce adhere to your pasta. The only time you should ever rinse your pasta is when you are going to use it in a cold dish like a pasta salad as rinsing the pasta helps to stop the cooking process.