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Cooking the Perfect Pasta

Pasta is probably one of the single most popular and cooked dishes of all time, even though most still consider its cooking techniques a mystery. It’s simple yet complex, and can be prepared as an everyday dish as well as special occasions–birthdays, potlucks, holidays.

Growing up, my Dad would often make pasta dishes (my favorite is his classic spaghetti bolognese), so I grew up consuming a lot of pasta and loving it. It’s one of those foods I can have everyday and not get sick of.

Inspired by my old man, I started learning to cook pasta when I left for college. At first I’d play it safe by using readily available pre-packaged pasta sauces. But then I’d read about how sauces that are made from scratch taste better and are better for you, so I started buying whole tomatoes and making my own. Sad to say that pre-packaged sauces tasted better. But that’s okay, it just means I’ll have to give it more tries.

Over the years, I’ve been taught and self-taught on the techniques of cooking pasta and I want to share them with you. Feel free to comment below to add your tips, in case I’ve missed something.

1. Choosing your pasta – there’s an endless selection of pasta these days from corn, brown rice, whole wheat, to gluten-free, nutrient-enriched, and so on. Depending on the dish I am making, I opt for different pasta varieties. But I’m ever so biased towards Spaghetti, Penne, and in particular Mafalda, a flat wide ribbon pasta. Some brands I’d recommend are Buitoni, Barilla, De Cecco, and Garofalo.

2. Use a large pot, large enough so that the pasta fills up about half to three-fourths of the pot. Allowing for plenty of space for the pasta to move freely will ensure they will be evenly cooked and don’t stick together.

3. Add plenty of water. The water should cover the most top layer of the pasta, if not more. Don’t feel bad about drowning the pasta. It’s okay, really.

4. Bring the water to a boil and add salt. I usually eyeball the amount of salt, but it’s always more than you think you need. For a bag of pasta, I usually add two big pinches of salt. The ratio is about1 Tbsp per liter of water. Salt adds flavor to the pasta and helps to make for an overall well-seasoned dish.

5. Add the pasta only when the water has come to a full, rolling boil. If you do it before, the pasta will release its natural starches which act like glue and will cause the pasta to stick, and we don’t want that. Make sure every strand of the pasta is fully submerged in the water.

6. Keep the heat on high and let the pasta come to a boil. In my experience, covering the pot is optional. I usually leave the pot uncovered so I can see the cooking progress and not forget that I have something cooking in the house. Stir the pasta from time to time, making sure nothing sticks. Pasta normally cooks in 8 to 10 minutes. I used to pour olive oil into the pasta cooking water (to supposedly prevent sticking), but I discovered that oily pasta surface prevents the sauce from seeping into the pasta, which is what we want to happen. So DON’T do that.

7. During this wait time, I make my sauce in another pot. Cook it on medium heat. Until it comes to a boil, bring the heat down to low and let simmer. Take it off the stove when your pasta has finished cooking.

8. When the pasta water has come to a boil, the way I check whether the pasta is cooked al dente is by pulling one out and tasting it. I usually drain the pasta water when the pasta is still slightly tough (almost al dente) because the pasta will continue to cook when you move it to near the sink, drain its water, and transfer it to another bowl, and also because I enjoy noodles that are slightly more al dente than normal. Make sure to drain your pasta thoroughly, you could seriously ruin a good pasta just by not draining the water enough.

9. I do not recommend rinsing the pasta with water. Rinsing it will wash away the starches and nutrients in the pasta–things you want to actually enjoy in a pasta.

10. Extra tip: add a little bit of the pasta water to the sauce with which you are serving the pasta. Somehow, it adds extra flavor to the overall dish.

And no, your pasta won’t magically turn to a rainbow color, unless you dye them. It’s pretty, really. But, really?? Colored pasta? Let’s just let the colors rest with the cakes, shall we? Enjoy!


Photo Credit: Google Images

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