Domestic Details: 10 Tips for Cooking Perfect Pasta

January 24, 2014 | | |

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10-tips-for-cooking-perfect-pastaI appreciate pasta, which is essentially the little black dress of the food world. It can be dressed up six ways from Sunday, but it’s also a simple thing to stock in your pantry and break out on the days that you aren’t feeling overly ambitious or creative. With minimal effort and a few accessories (hello, store-bought tomato sauce), a box of dried pasta can be turned into a fabulous meal in less than 15 minutes, and it’s pretty much a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. What’s not to love?

While cooking pasta is seemingly idiot-proof, there are a few common misconceptions and pitfalls that can lead to not-so-nice noodles. If you’ve ever ended up with a “pasta brick” or slippery spaghetti that refuses to hold sauce, you know exactly what I’m talking about. So, in the hope of improving your basic culinary game, I’ve compiled some handy tips and tricks for cooking perfect pasta every single time. Respect.

10 Tips for Cooking Perfect Pasta:

1. Use a big pot and plenty of water. Pasta needs some personal space when it’s in the water, or it will freak out and stick together. So get out your big boy/girl pot, and give your pasta plenty of breathing room. For your average box of pasta, you’re going to need at least a 6-quart pot of water.

2. Season the water with lots of salt. Don’t be shy. You want your pasta water to be salted until it “tastes like the sea.” I recommend a handful of kosher salt (about ¼ cup) per 6-quarts water. This will add lots of extra flavor to the pasta and you’ll end up with a much tastier final product.

3. Make sure that the water is at a rolling boil before you add the pasta. If the water isn’t at a rolling boil when you add your noodles, they will be more likely to stick together, so please don’t jump the gun. Cover the pot to help the water boil more quickly, then uncover and add the pasta. Do NOT cover the pot again, it will make the water more likely to overflow. Literal hot mess.

4. Stir that pot! I’m talking Remix to Ignition style, people. Stirring the pasta with a long spoon, especially right when you add it to the water, will prevent it from sticking together and help ensure even cooking.

5. Never add oil to the water. Some people say that adding oil to the water while your pasta is cooking will keep it from sticking. These people are not your friends! Adding oil will make the pasta very slippery, which means that it won’t hold sauce well. No bueno.

6. Taste test your pasta for doneness early and often. You want to cook your pasta “al dente,” meaning that it is tender, yet still firm. Most dried pastas cook to al dente in 8-10 minutes, but this is just a guideline. The only way to tell if your pasta is ready is to be a helicopter chef and taste it regularly. I like to start tasting my pasta 2-3 minutes shy of the suggested cooking time, and you should do the same. Once it’s done, drain it immediately. Make sure to have the colander ready in the sink so you don’t waste any precious time.

NOTE: I know some of you may still be using the “throw the spaghetti against the wall method” to test doneness. Stop that. If a piece of pasta sticks to the wall, it’s seriously overcooked. Plus, it makes a mess.

7. For the love of God, don’t rinse your pasta! Rinsing pasta after you’ve strained it will remove all of the glorious starch that will help the sauce to stick. The only exceptions to this rule are when you’re making lasagna noodles (they can be hard to separate without rinsing) or a cold pasta salad, as the starch can make the pasta sticky when it cools.

8. Reserve some of the pasta water before you strain your pasta. This soupy-looking water is actually liquid gold. A splash or two will go along way in emulsifying your sauce, and it adds amazing flavor.

9. Sauce your pasta immediately. The longer you let your noodles chillax in a colander, the more likely they are to stick together. Be a planner and make sure you have your sauce ready to go when you strain the pasta.

10. Do not microwave leftover pasta. Microwaving pasta makes it gummy and gross. If you want to make a big batch of pasta for the week (this may not be the best diet strategy, but whatever), the best way to do it is to cook the pasta al dente, strain and rinse it (this is obviously and exception to the “no rinsing” rule), and then coat it with a healthy amount of olive oil to keep it from forming a scary “pasta brick” in the fridge. Store it in an airtight container and refrigerate. When you’re ready to eat it, bring a small pot of water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook for 1 minute to heat it through. Strain and toss with sauce of your choice. Boom.

Domesticity is all in the details, friends. Bow to your sensei.

*If you have a burning question that you’d like featured on a future edition of Domestic Details, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave it in the comments. Help me help you.

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