Everyone knows how to make pasta, but we have tips to making it perfect every time.
Using oil can’t replace this step. Italians cringe when they see you add oil to your pasta water. No, it does not prevent the noodles from sticking. (Remember science 101? Water and oil don’t mix, so adding a few spoonfuls of oil to a whole pot of water will NOT coat the pasta to reduce stickiness.) The only way to prevent sticking is by using the recommended amount of water (at least 1.5 gallon per pound of pasta, but more for long pasta like spaghetti), and stirring frequently during the first minutes of cooking, then dressing the pasta immediately after draining.
Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of coarse salt per gallon of water. Adding the right amount of salt to the water is critical. Remember, there is almost no salt in the pasta dough, because it would alter the texture. Additionally, the salt of the sauce only sticks to the surface of the pasta and doesn't penetrate the actual pasta dough. That’s why you must add 2 to 3 tablespoons of coarse salt per gallon of water during the boiling process. Remember: since you will be draining the pasta, you won’t actually take in that much salt! (Conversely, you should never add much more salt than is recommended because you‘ll use some of the pasta water to thicken your sauce and you don’t want it to taste too salty.)
The chef ’s secret ingredient. The cooking water receives starch from the noodles, becoming a wonderful thickening and emulsifying agent: when added to the sauce, it makes it creamier (sans cream) and helps it stick to the pasta to coat it evenly. To give their cooking water super-powers, some chefs even add a few spoonfuls of semolina to cooking water before boiling their pasta.
How to get thereYou want your pasta to have a good mouth-feel to it, a ton of texture—however, it should definitely NOT be sticking to your teeth as you chew; undercooked noodles are even worse than overcooked ones! You need to taste. In the last 2 minutes of cooking, taste every 20-30 seconds, until the noodles are perfect. If you bite in, and see white inside, the pasta is still undercooked.
A major don’t. Since the starch in the cooking water is so critical to achieving a creamy sauce that will stick to the noodles, the last thing you want to do is rinse your pasta. (By the way, it would also wash off too much salt.) The ONLY case in which Italians briefly rinse pasta is if they plan on serving it without sauce, in a cold pasta salad. If you made a huge amount and need to set some aside, a better way to stop it from cooking further is draining it, spreading it in a wide tray and placing it in the refrigerator, dressed with a touch of oil. Open the fridge to toss the pasta every few minutes until it’s cool, to prevent the noodles from sticking.
DRESSING AND TOSSING
Critical steps. After you cook your pasta, don’t just throw it into individual bowls and cover it with sauce. The spaghetti will stick together, the sauce kind of sit on top, and the starch will not blend. After draining, put the noodles back into the pot or a pan with a few reserved spoonfuls of your magic cooking water; toss for a minute or two. Of course, when you are making a raw egg-based sauce, such as a carbonara, you need to toss in a large salad bowl and not a hot pot, or you will end up with scrambled eggs!
A huge do! Last, but not least: please stop giving your kids plain pasta. You are wasting your best opportunity to sneak in practically any food that they would never eat (yet) on its own. You can make a blended pasta sauce in a food processor using any vegetables, cooked until soft in some olive oil, and a little garlic or onion.
These one-bowl pasta dinners are quick, easy, and satisfy every pasta-lover’s craving. I love just about every version of pasta, and I’ve discovered ways to indulge even when I’m “watching” what I eat. So don’t let the “P” word scare you. If you’re careful with portion size, enhance the meal with vegetables and healthy lean proteins, and use whole wheat, brown rice, or soba noodle varieties to enjoy these fab five dinners without a care!