You might be making pasta a certain way because that’s how you’ve always done it, or that’s how you were taught. I thought I would publish some pasta fundamentals. As an engineer I ask “why” a lot, and found some good answers/reasons over the years. A few small techniques go a long way in texture, taste, and presentation!
1. Pronounciation: Pasta is pronounced PAHS-tah, not PASS-tah. With the Royal wedding in the blinding spotlight, now is a good time to practice your English accent. “Pardon, Paula, would you possibly pass the parsley for my pasta?”
2. Yield: This obviously depends on a few things. Are you serving sides and an appetizer with the dish? Lots of mixins/veggies and sauce in the pasta? A good rule of thumb is 3/4 cup of pasta per person. That’s for penne, orrechiette, or medium sized pasta. For smaller pastas like orzo, elbows, or ditalini, use 1/2 cup per person…smaller pasta is usually in a soup or salad so you’ll have to gage based on what you are serving. For something like spaghetti, a 16-oz box serves 4.
3. The vessel: Use a large pot with lots of water. You know how you don’t like close-talkers? Pasta doesn’t like other pasta getting in their personal space either. More water means a happier pasta.
4. The Water: Cold water in the pot only. Hot water from the tap is public transportation for gross stuff in the pipes. And once boiled, hot water might kill some things, but it absorbs the worst things.
5. Hold the Olive Oil: I don’t know who came up with this idea, but your pasta water doesn’t need oil. Whoever came up with this notion should have taken a chemistry class first because everyone knows that oil and water don’t even mix. What is the point of having olive oil globules dancing on the surface of a rolling boil?
6. Put a lid on it: Get the water to a fast boil by covering the pot. And it’s more “green”.
7. Salt: You MUST add salt to the water, after it reaches a boil. This is how you season the pasta. You need at least a tablespoon. Omiting this step will cost you serious flavor, and seasoning the dish afterwards won’t make up for it. Wait for it to reach a boil so that the water boils faster, and the salt dissolves faster. Once it dissolves, THEN add the pasta.
8. Cook to “al dente”: No one wants mushy food in their mouth unless you just graduated from breast milk. Al dente is the SIGNATURE of pasta. Put away angry birds on your smart phone for a few minutes and keep an eye on your pasta, because there’s a narrow window between undercooked and overcooked.
9. Stop ruining your walls: Don’t throw spaghetti on your backsplash to check if it’s done. That doesn’t work unless you have feathered bangs and live in 1985. Just take a bite.
10. Drain immediately and return pasta back to the pot: Drain the water from pasta the moment it’s done, and then put it back it the pot to add your sauce, veggies, etc. There’s no down-time between the two tasks – otherwise you’ll have sauce-noodle attraction issues. Sauce only flirts with a glistening noodle.