Quick Tips for Perfect Pasta

As an adult with limited time, funds, kitchen skills, or all of the above, pasta, along with it's close cousin cereal, is likely one of your specialities.   Even with cooking skills to boot, I can pretty much say the same.  It's fast, easy, and super cheap.  We are trying to broaden your repertoire here but while that's in progress why not perfect what we do know?

And so, pasta.  Seems like it should be pretty difficult to mess something up that's so simple, right?  Well, actually, not necessarily.  Oftentimes the most simple things present the greatest opportunity for the most obvious errors.  Does that make sense?  But the good news is that when it comes to pasta it's not all that difficult to get it right.   Odds are you'll still be a little ways from restaurant status (practice makes better) but these six pasta cooking tips will, without a doubt, up your weeknight go-to game. 

1.  Start with cold water and lots of it

It's a scientific fact that cold water will come to a boil just as quickly as hot water.  Seriously Google it.  And since hot water has been stewing in your hot water heater for who knows how long (and that's kinda gross) just start with cold water.  Give those noodles enough room to swim freely and they'll cook more evenly.   This is where your stock pot comes in.  

2.  Make the water salty like the sea.

Beyond flour, water and egg, there's not much to pasta so seasoning is key and it starts here.  Salt the water heavily with a few heaping tablespoons of kosher salt and begin flavoring the finished dish now.

"Salty like the sea"

Any recipe that calls for boiling water as the first stage of cooking (i.e. pasta, potatoes, blanched vegetables) ALSO calls for salt by default.  
In culinary schools and pro kitchens alike the phrase "salty like the sea" is used to describe what this cooking water should taste like in
order to impart flavor to the food.  So salt that shit.  And by shit I mean water.  And don't be shy about it. 

3.  Stir.  But not too much.  

If you don't stir the pasta soon after it goes into the water you'll end up with one giant pasta cake.  If you've ever dumped a box of macaroni into the water and walked away you know what I'm talking about.  Stirring it too much can break down too much starch leaving you with a gummy end result.   So stir it gently, once right after it goes into the water to keep it from sticking and once or twice more before it's done.

4.  Save some of that pasta water. 

You don't need much.  Grab a 1/2 or 1/3 cup measure and just scoop some out towards the end of cooking when the water is at it's cloudiest from the starch and set it aside.  You'll see why below.

5.  Abide by the minimum cooking time (and test a piece a minute before).  

They say you can't go back.  And they're right.  So test your pasta just before it reaches the full cooking time.  Al dente means, "to the tooth."  There should be just a little bit of resistance to the pasta when you bite into it before you pull it from the heat.  Thanks to carryover cooking, it will continue to cook even after you drain it.  If you wait til it's done done to pull it from the water you'll overcook it.  

Carryover cooking

Carryover cooking is the process of a food retaining heat and continuing to cook once it has been removed from the heat source.   You'll hear a lot about this when it comes to cooking meat which can rise in temperature as much as 15 degrees once it's off the flame taking that expensive rib eye from
medium-rare to rubber in a flash.  This extraordinary phenomenon also applies to pasta and can shoot you in the foot if you're unaware of it.  
Test your noodles at the minimum time and get 'em off the heat and outta that water once they're just al dente. 

6.  Add that saved pasta water back to your sauce to loosen it up AND bind it together (whaaat?)  

Those are two opposing things, I know.  That's the magic of pasta water ya'll.  The starches in that salty cooking water help bind the finished dish together so adding a little back a tablespoon full at a time at the end is a good thing.   Give the final dish a taste before sprinkling with Maldon salt.

make it beautiful

Fresh herbs = instant sophistication and few things were made to go so beautifully with them as pasta.  Throw a generous handful of
chopped Italian parsley onto the finished dish to brighten it up both visually and flavor-wise.