Although cooking pasta may seem fairly straightforward, it is actually quite easy to make mistakes in the process. First of all, one must be sure to cook pasta just long enough. Do not believe what is written on the package. Pasta must always be cooked until it is “al dente,” meaning cooked, but not to the point of becoming sticky. You should feel a slight resistance when chewing.
To be sure that your pasta is cooked correctly, it is enough to follow a few, simple rules. To begin with, you should keep in mind the right quantities. In Italy, the golden rule for cooking pasta is 1, 10, 100 or 1 liter of water, 10 grams of salt for every 100 grams of pasta. Converted for American cooks, the rule should be 1/3, 3, 30, referring to 1/3 oz of salt, 3 oz of pasta and 30 oz of water.
(Note that the order of the ingredients changes in the conversion.)
These proportions guarantee that the pasta will have enough water to move around in during cooking and that the water will return to a boil shortly after the pasta is added.
With regards to the actually cooking process, just be sure to follow these simple steps:
- Fill a large, tall pot with water and place over high heat.
- When the water begins to boil, add salt.
- After the salt has dissolved, toss in the pasta. Stir after about 1 minute. Continue stirring at regular intervals for the first 4 minutes.
- Cook the pasta for 1 minute less than is indicated on the package. The pasta will continue to cook in the pan.
- Reserve about a small cup of cooking water.
- Drain the pasta and finish the preparation: toss the pasta in a pan with the sauce you have prepared. Add 1 tbsp cooking water and grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if needed. Continue tossing the pasta and pasta sauce over high heat until it becomes smooth and creamy.
And to finish, here is a short list of additional tips for making great pasta:
- Pasta cooked al dente should be slightly resistant to the bite. If you undercook the pasta, you will be able to see a little white dot at the center of the pasta noodle or a white ring if you are cooking a tube-shaped pasta. This hard, white part shows that the center of the pasta is still raw. If, instead, you overcook the pasta, it will become too soft and more difficult to digest.
- The ease with which one cooks pasta also depends on the quality of the pasta: to perfectly cook mass-produced pasta, one must drain the pasta within a matter seconds of al dente. With high-quality pasta, on the other had, one has more time to work with, making it less likely to turn out over- or under-cooked.
- Do not forget that the pasta will continue to cook out of the pot, so do not be timid in draining it while it is al dente.
- Pasta should be put in boiling (not cold) water so that the heat can reach the center of the pasta as quickly as possible and allowing the pasta to cook evenly. As a matter of fact, salt is added to the water so that the boiling point is higher.
- The salt plays another important role: the salt must be dissolved into the water before the pasta is added in order to penetrate the pasta during cooking. This way the pasta absorbs the right amount of salt and cooks evenly.