Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Technique Tuesday: Cooking Pasta

To make an exceptional pasta dish, you have to know how to cook your noodles correctly. There is nothing worse than an amazing sauce atop flaccid, overcooked pasta. To make sure that your pasta is perfect for whatever sauce or dressing you plan to use, make sure to follow the basic rules below.
1. Use enough salt
I think that salt is such an important component of cooking technique that I have devoted an entire posting to it! A lot of people are phobic about using salt in their cooking; others simply add it at the end as an afterthought. Salting your pasta water is the only way you're going to be able to flavor the noodles themselves. Use a liberal amount of salt, and don't worry about measuring. I've even heard people say that your pasta water should be as salty as the sea, so go for it!

2. Make sure your water is boiling
A rolling boil is necessary when cooking pasta. To achieve this, turn your heat up to high and cover your pot. You should see large bubbles rising to the surface when you've reached a rolling boil. Make sure that you don't add your salt until you are at this point; if you add it when the water is cold, the salt will sink to the bottom and can damage your pot. Only add your pasta when the water is boiling. Then, reduce your heat to medium-low to continue cooking.

3. Use enough water
You need quite a bit of water to cook pasta well. Don't just use enough water to cover the water a little bit. I try to stick to about 4-6 cups of water for every cup of dried pasta. This way your noodles will move around and cook more evenly.

4. Don't overcook your pasta
Your noodles will cook a little bit more when you've drained them (unless you cool them with water, which may impede a sauce's ability to stick to your noodles). The goal is to have your noodles come out al dente. You will know they are al dente when you pull one out of the pot and it has a little firmness when you bite down on it. You can also give your test noodle a little toss onto the counter or even the wall (which I don't really suggest because it may leave a little mark). If it sticks, you're good to go. Mushy noodles can ruin a dish, so be sure not to overcook yours!

5. Reserve some of the pasta water
Reserved pasta water can make a good sauce great. It contains the salt and starch from the cooking process and can be used to thin a thick sauce or create an almost brothlike sauce from garlic, oil and parmesan. Be sure to pull about a half cup or so out before draining your pasta. You'll be so glad you did!

6. Return your drained pasta to the original pot
Putting your noodles back into the pot you cooked them in can help speed up their drying time. Leaving them in a strainer causes them to stay damp longer. The heat from the pot will have them dry in no time at all.


Debra said...

Very informative. thanks for the tips

Author said...

Thanks for your comment :) Glad you liked it!