For this posting, I thought I’d share some technical stuff when it comes to cooking pasta. All these facts are based on self-research and personal experience. It is definitely open for dispute and subjected to further testing. But whichever opinion that’s headed after reading this, I hope in some small part, it’ll help to set a fine tasting plate of pasta on the table.
When boiling pasta….
Of course it all starts with a pot of boiling water. You must always season the water when cooking pasta. How much salt to use is a bit argumentative. It is said that the water should taste of the sea. In my perception, that’s plenty of salt. But I would say this is disputable. I normally just use a pinch of salt to season my pasta. Then again, if I was making a pasta dish that uses lots of cheese or bacon, I’d go easy on the salt.
Add salt only when the water has come to a rolling boil. Why? Because salted water takes longer to reach its boiling point. Also there are some who would use some of the pasta water to add it to the sauce before tossing it together. If that’s the case, I don’t think the pasta water should be as salty as the sea, less you end up with too much.
A perfectly cooked pasta should be just ‘al dente’. Bear in mind that fresh pasta takes less time to cook compared to dried pasta. For filled pastas like ravioli, tortellini and gnocchis, they’re cooked when they float to the top.
To stop pasta sticking together….
A good tip is too fan out the pasta before dropping them into the pot rather than placing a whole clump together in the water. This is especially so for longish-type pastas. A good trick is to twist the handful in opposite directions, position it upwards over the pot and then drop it. It should fan out quite nicely as shown in the picture (pic below). When it’s soft at the bottom, you should be able to use a spoon to gently fold the uncooked tops down. If you do own a big pot that’s high enough and big enough to hold a lot of pasta, then this method is not necessary.
Some have suggested adding a bit of butter or oil to stop the pasta sticking together. And then when it’s cooked, add more oil to the drained pasta. I tried it both ways, first with oil and then without. You know what, it doesn’t make a difference. And I’d rather not waste more of my oil. I also find that adding more oil to drained pasta makes the sauce that much difficult to adhere to the pasta.
My tip is to just use a big pot with lots of water. Space will let the pasta spread out when it’s cooking, rather than using a small saucepan where everything is huddled together. No wonder they stick. Also, for stumpy pastas like macaroni, fusilli, conch or bowties, swirl the boiling water around before dropping them in. That way, the vortex like current will spread out the little pastas. Very different from if you just toss the pasta in when the water is still and they gather in the middle.
When testing for doneness…
I think this odd way of throwing a strand of pasta against the wall to test for its doneness was created for some comedic element on TV. Whether it’s true or not, I prefer not to apply this sloppy method. The most reliable way to tell its doneness is through tasting.
Taste tells everything. This is a simple yet vital fundament of cooking. I get a lot of questions like ‘How do you know how much sugar to put in,’ or ‘How much lemons is too much?’ Well….taste it! That’s all you need to do, trust your taste buds. Don’t trust the wall.
A quirky little gadget for picking up single strands
of pasta for tasting
When draining pasta….
If there is one absolutely zero tolerance rule that I have for this topic is that do NOT ever, ever rinse your pasta. Unless you’re using them for cold salads.
Why? When you rinse cooked and drained pasta, you rinse away the natural starch on the surface. We need this starch for the sauce to stick to the pasta. It’s the same principle when making salads. You don’t put dressing on wet salad leaves, they would just fall right off.
I think the misconception of rinsing pasta probably occurred from letting the water run down the sink when the pasta was being drained. Because when you drain pasta, there’s bound to be a lot of steam, by letting cold water run, you can reduce that steam. So people probably thought they’re rinsing the pasta instead.
When tossing the pasta in the sauce…
There are two methods to this; you could either pour your cooked pasta into the sauce, or pour your sauce into the cooked pasta before tossing them together. Which ever has more space. But it is best to coat all your pasta with sauce before plating rather than plate plain pasta and then pour the sauce on top. This is to ensure each strand or each stump of pasta is covered with the appropriate flavour of the sauce.
Another tip if you want your sauce to stick to the pasta is to scoop some of the pasta liquid and add it to your sauce at the last second. That’s why in my opinion, the cooking water shouldn’t taste TOO much of the sea.
** All pictures in this post are sourced.