Cooking With Pasta

how to cook pasta perfectly every time. Also details the different types of pasta available and tips for enhancing sauces.

Meals made with pasta are one of the most popular foods to eat - whether cooked at home or ordered in a restaurant. Pasta comes in an assortment of shapes and sizes and can also be filled with a variety of ingredients, including cheeses, meats, and vegetables. Regardless of the type of pasta being used, cooking it to perfection is a task that is not always easy to do. Overcooking pasta results in limp, flavorless pieces while cooking pasta for too short a period of time produces tough pieces that can be neither chewed nor presented in an attractive appearance to guests. Therefore, in order to prepare pasta so that its consistency is perfect, its taste heightened, and its appearance attractive, you should follow a few guidelines when you plan to cook pasta.

First, know the correct amount of pasta to cook. For example, if you plan on feeding 4 to 6 people, one pound of uncooked pasta should suffice. Additionally, never break longer pieces of uncooked pasta, such as spaghetti, into smaller strands to fit into a pot. Instead, use a larger pot to cook your pasta in and allow for a longer cooking time. Also, you should not cook different pasta types together. This is because one type of pasta may cook faster than the other resulting in uneven cooking times and the possibility of producing either overcooked or undercooked pasta.

When you have selected your pasta for cooking and have chosen the proper sized pot to hold the pasta, set the pot on your stove and fill it with cold water. Next, turn the stove's heat onto a high setting. Note that for every pound of pasta you should add 4 quarts of water to the pot. Additionally, never place more than 2 pounds of pasta into the same pot as this may cause the pasta to stick together and to not cook properly. As the water heats, add approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt to the water depending on the sauce that you will be using. More salt is recommended if you are serving a mild flavored sauce. Besides seasoning the pasta, salt is used to prevent the pasta from sticking together. While many people add oil to their water to perform this same task, adding oil actually has a negative affect on the cooked pasta's texture and flavor. Because pasta secretes starch during the first few minutes that it is placed into the water, it produces an oily film on its own. Adding oil to the water only increases this oiliness and results in pasta that is slippery - so much so that any sauce tossed with it will not adhere to the pasta. Additionally, adding oil to the water removes flavor from the pasta. Thus, it is recommended to add only salt to any water in which pasta is to be cooked.

Once you have added salt to your pot, let the water come to a full boil. At this point, add all of your pasta into the pot and use a wooden spoon to gently stir the pasta so that it does not stick together. At the same time, make sure that your water does not boil over. While the pasta is cooking, if you have not done so already, prepare any sauce that will be used to top the pasta. Meanwhile, have a colander sitting in your sink ready to drain the pasta into it. You will know when the pasta is done by removing a piece from the pot and checking its firmness by tasting it. Pasta should be "al dente", which means "to the tooth". Literally translated, this means that the pasta should be firm when chewed, but not totally hard. When your pasta has reached this consistency, remove the pot of pasta from the stove and empty its contents into the colander. Drain the water from the pasta by shaking the pasta in the colander a few times. Unless you plan to use the pasta in a cold dish, such as a pasta salad, never run cold water over the pasta pieces in the colander. Doing so will remove starch from the pasta, which will prevent any added sauce from clinging to the pasta. Once the pasta has drained, place it in a big serving bowl and immediately cover it with your sauce. The hotter the pasta is the more the sauce will adhere to it, adding more flavor, as well as texture, to your dish. Additionally, if you have a sauce that is somewhat thin, you can add some of the water that your pasta was cooked in to help thicken the sauce. This is because the cooked pasta water retains the starch expelled by the pasta as it cooks. As a natural thickening agent, the starch will enhance your sauce's texture while at the same time adding a little bit of a unique flavor to it. If you know in advance that you may need to thicken your pasta sauce up a bit, preserve some of your cooked pasta water prior to emptying the pasta into the colander. Experiment with the amount of water to be added to your sauce until the desired consistency, and taste, is reached.

Pasta is an enjoyable and delicious addition to any meal. And, when cooked properly, is sure to bring many compliments to the chef who prepared it.

© High Speed Ventures 2011