How to cook pasta perfectly step by step

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Cooking pasta is a kids’ play, if you know how to do it! Here I am to help you to cook pasta as you were in an Italian kitchen. Believe me, it is not so difficult as it may seem, a few hints to enjoy pasta at its best.

What you need to know about pasta

Pasta is a simple plain product, made from ground grains (durum wheat, buckwheat, rice, corn) and water. Here, I want to tell you about durum wheat pasta which has a quite high protein content as it rich in gluten and low in starch. Gluten, a protein, generates when flour and water are mixed together: it is the viscous and elastic binder agent which lets the pasta be kneaded.

Pasta comes in numberless types and shapes; you’ll never get bored with this delicacy. I do love pasta, every shape, and I usually opt for simple and light sauce to season it as it tastes pretty good on its own.    

Does pasta spoil your diet?

Does pasta make you fat? Too many carbs, too many calories, too much insulinic stimulus. Is that true, or is it just commonplace? My answer is: “It depends”. It depends on:

  • the quantity (often the servings are too abundant),
  • the sauce (cheese, cream, and very rich sauces make the calorie intake increase dramatically!),
  • how you cook it,
  • when you eat it: it best fits lunch, you should not have pasta for dinner.

Where can you buy pasta?

You may make pasta on your own (look at the link) or buy it at the supermarket. If you do not know any good local pasta makers which may provide you with the best fresh pasta ever, I think that buying it in a shop is much easier and more convenient.

So, opt for carton-board or food plastic packages (more environmentally-friendly). Pasta must be uniformly smooth and amber yellow. Whole wheat pasta is slightly darker and spotted because of the bran. To be honest, I am not really fond of whole wheat pasta for a few reasons: first of all,  it tastes quite different from the white “one”, then it takes longer time to be done, and to be digested, so it may be responsible for annoying gut fermentation episodes. I prefer to have fewer smaller servings of traditional pasta cooked ‘al dente’ (it has quite the same glycemic index as the whole wheat one). 

Read the nutritional facts on the packages and make sure it contains only flour and water, no other ingredients are allowed.

I do love Barilla pasta, but if it you can find it in your country, please try Rummo and Garofalo pasta as well, because they are great. These makers produce the true Italian pasta we it here.

Can pasta be cooked without boiling?

Not at all, pasta must be cooked in salted boiling water: pour it evenly into the pot, if it is short, or push it towards the bottom as soon as it gets softer, if it is long.

Bring the water to a rolling boil to cook pasta al dente, which means that it must be tender but firm when you chew it.

Can you cook pasta directly in its sauce?

No, you can’t cook pasta in its sauce. Actually, only a few chefs finish cooking it in sauce with some specialized techniques. It is just a way to enhance the taste of the dish, but you have to be very skilled and add water little by little. You should not do that because often pasta may result indigestible.

Hot or cold water to cook pasta?

Hot water, definitely. Follow these steps: fill 2/3 of a large stock pot with water- I use a steel 30cm high one. Put the pot over high heat, cover with a lid,  and bring the water to rolling boil, then add salt and when it boils again pour the pasta.

In a big pot, pasta cooks evenly and doesn’t stick together-keep in mind that it increases a little in volume as it absorbs water. Sometimes, high quality dry pasta may even triple its volume (it is in the average).

You’d better use more water than less: 1 liter and a half every 100gr of pasta is the right quantity.

Do you cook pasta with the lid?

Cook pasta without lid. It is used to bring the water to a rolling boil faster. As soon as it boils, add salt and pour pasta-you don’t need the lid any more.

How long do you cook pasta?

It depends on your taste, on the quantity and the shape of pasta; water hardness plays an important role as well. Unfortunately, there is no average time as every pasta shape has got its own peculiar features: it may take from 1-2 minutes to 15-20 minutes.

First of all, check carefully the package directions, and taste it while cooking. Of course, start timing when the water returns to a boil, not just after pouring pasta.

Here are same variables:

  • Durum wheat semolina pasta takes longer to be done than soft wheat one. You should opt for pasta with longer cooking time because it usually has a lower glycemic index. It means that it will takes longer to be digested, glycemia will rise more slowly, and you will feel more sated. In this way, pasta will be less fattening;
  • Fresh pasta takes less time to be done;
  • Thick pasta takes longer time than thin one.

How do you know if pasta is done

Just before the earliest cooking time stated on the package, pick up a string of spaghetti with a fork or a few pieces of short pasta and test it. If it is tender, but firm and you have to chew the tiny core in the middle, it is done. If you want to be sure, have a look at the core:  if you can still see a solid white in the centre, cook it for a few minutes more.

If your pasta is very soft, sticky, and very light…well, I am sorry but you have overcooked it. Next time you’ll do better.

Anyway, drain it right away, otherwise it will go on cooking.

When you cook pasta, don’t worry too much about it: just stir every few minutes, so it won’t stick together and to the bottom of the pot. Test it just before draining-in the meanwhile, prepare the source, or lay the table. If some water foams up over the side of the pot, lower the heat, but do not add cold water because it would spoil the cooking process. 

How can I season pasta once cooked?

First and main rule: drain pasta and season it with the sauce you have prepared-serve hot. In case you want to prepare a cold salad, or any other cold dishes, put it under cold running water to remove the starch and stop the cooking progress, so your pasta salad won’t be sticky.

Season pasta with fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce, vegetables and aromatics herbs (for instance very little butter and sage) to keep the calorie intake under control. Do you like it “white”? High quality extra virgin olive oil, or very good farm butter, and a little freshly grated parmigiano cheese will turn your pasta into a real delicacy.

A few golden rules not to make any mistakes:

  • Both long and short pasta must be cooked in plenty of water: 1 liter or 1.5 liter per 100gr of pasta
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil in a high stockpot. Leave enough space at the top because you do not want the water to bubble up and overflow.
  • Only when the water boils, add the salt, about 10gr per liter of water.
  • Add pasta and bring the water back to a rolling boil. Lower the heat: the water has to boil gently.
  • Stir pasta with tongs every few minutes so it won’t get sticky.
  • Drain pasta “al dente” because it is easier to digest as it has soaked up less water.
  • Cook pasta according to the package directions (start timing only when the water returns to a rolling boil), but always taste pasta before draining it: if the core is still white, pasta still needs one or 2 minutes to be done.
  • Pasta is done: season it to your taste. Try it “in bianco” as we say in Italian with little oil, or butter.

 

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