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Pasta 101

November 3, 2010

Did you know that almost 90% of American households eat dry pasta at least 1x per year?  The average household consumes about 12 LBs per year, too.  That doesn’t even count all the frozen & ready-to-eat meals made with pasta.  So, I’m clearly not the only one who really loves pasta.

Because of my job, I’ve had the pleasure of learning all there is to know about dry pasta…how it’s made, the Italian history, shape usage and more.  I’ll start with the basics: things every beginner or seasoned cook should know about cooking the perfect pasta.

Pasta 101

  • Start with a large pot of water.  (Shortcut – start with hot water to shorten the time it takes to boil.)
  • Season with 1 tsp+ salt (not oil).  Depending on the recipe application, I may use more or less.  For example, I’ll use more if I am making a simple olive oil sauce…then I can use less salt in the sauce.
  • Stir frequently, especially at the beginning.  Does your spaghetti ever stick together?  Do not add oil (this just prevents your sauce from clinging to the pasta); rather, stir frequently and use a bigger pot.
  • Cook to al dente.  Al who?  Al dente is Italian for ‘to the tooth’ which means the pasta is cooked to the bite, not mushy.  When al dente, the pasta should have a little bit of white in the center.  If you’re not quite sure, simply cook pasta to package directions.  Actually, pasta is better for you when cooked properly to al dente (it has a lower glycemic index, which means your body has to work harder to convert it).
  • Before draining, reserve 1/4 cup or so of the cooking liquid.  You can use this to loosen your sauce.
  • Unless you’re making a pasta salad or casserole, there is no need to rinse your pasta with cold water.  The starch on your cooked pasta helps your sauce cling to it.
  • Did you make enough for leftovers?  It’s best to store the sauce and pasta separately (although I rarely do this myself).  If you do, sprinkle leftover pasta with a little bit of vegetable oil (not olive oil) to keep it from sticking.  It will last for 3 days or more in your fridge.

These are the basics, so start here…and share your tips, too!

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