Ten Steps to Perfect Pasta
by Skip Lombardi
I'm amazed at how often I get e-mail from a disgruntled
home cook, lamenting the fact that, once again, a dish of pasta has turned
into a culinary disaster. I hear stories of overcooked, undercooked,
tasteless pasta that may also be stuck together, or otherwise inedible. In
fact, I recently had the experience where I was shopping with a friend and
I suggested that she buy some pasta. Her response was that it was too
unpredictable to cook.
It needn't be that way. First of all, 90% of cooking is being there. That
is, letting the telephone ring through to voice-mail; perhaps leaving
guests in the living room sipping their Chardonnay and simply keeping your
focus on the task at hand. And by being there-that is, tending the
pasta-you'll be able to do the only test available to judge its doneness:
Those two tips alone will improve your pasta-cooking skills, but I offer
here, ten little steps that, taken together, will guarantee a perfect dish
of pasta every time. Follow these steps, and you'll prepare pasta that
will consistently impress your family, your friends, and your harshest
1. All pasta is not created equal. Choose a brand with a solid reputation
in the marketplace. De Cecco and Barilla are two fine brands readily
available in supermarkets.
2. Use a pot that's large enough to accommodate the pasta without
crowding. For one pound of pasta, an eight-quart pot is good; a ten-quart
pot is better. Pasta needs room to move freely as it cooks. At a minimum,
use nothing smaller than a six-quart pot.
3. Use plenty of water. For one pound of pasta, you should use at least
six quarts of water.
4. Add salt to the water. About 1 Tbs. per gallon. Salt adds flavor to the
pasta that helps to create a well-seasoned dish. Often, a perfectly
seasoned sauce will still taste like it needs "something" because the
pasta is unseasoned.
5. Bring the water to a full, rolling boil before adding the pasta. One of
the prime causes for pasta sticking together is that the water had not yet
come to a full boil. When you add pasta to water that has not yet reached
the boiling point, it releases natural starches, which act like glue.
Since the pasta is simply sitting in the water at the time, the strands
6. Bring the water back to the boil as quickly as possible after adding
the pasta. In the case of pasta strands, like spaghetti or linguine, stir
the pasta until it has wilted and become submerged in the cooking water,
then cover the pot until the water returns to the boil. When the water has
boiled, though, uncover the pot, and finish cooking uncovered.
7. Stir the pasta two or three times throughout the cooking process. Pasta
cooks in eight to ten minutes. The brief time you spend attending to it
away from family or guests will reap huge rewards at the dinner table.
8. Never add olive oil to the pasta cooking water. The olive oil coats the
pasta, and prevents sauce from adhering to it when you've put the entire
9. Cook the pasta to the 'al dente' state. The only way to judge this is
by tasting. Manufacturer's cooking times are mere guidelines. Begin
tasting the pasta about two minutes before the manufacturer says it should
be done. Also, there will be a small amount of carryover cooking between
the time you remove the pasta from the stove, drain in the sink, and
combine with the sauce.
10. Never rinse pasta. When you rinse pasta, you're washing away most of
the starches and nutrients that you were seeking to enjoy in the first
So be there. Be attentive. Taste, and learn when pasta has cooked to the
consistency that you like. Follow these ten little steps, and you'll
develop a reputation as a miracle worker with pasta. And with the myriad
of sauces in the Italian and Italian-American cuisines, you will have
expanded your cooking repertoire beyond your wildest dreams.
About The Author
Skip Lombardi is the author of two cookbooks: "La Cucina dei Poveri:
Recipes from my Sicilian Grandparents," and "Almost Italian:
Recipes from America's Little Italy's" He has been a Broadway
musician, high-school math teacher, software engineer, and a fledgeling
blogger. But he has never let any of those pursuits get in the way of his
passion for cooking and eating. Visit his Web site to learn more about his
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