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Feb 18, 2013

The Art of Cooking Pasta

Boiling Pasta

“The tricky part: how long should you boil your pasta?” ©Non Sprecare

“No man is lonely eating spaghetti: it requires so much attention!”

I could easily appropriate these words by Christopher Morley, an American writer and journalist (1890-1957). Pasta do require attention. Well, some.

Many of you, dear readers, have told me that they would greatly appreciate it if I could write a short article on how to cook pasta the Italian way. So, here it is.

The whole “process” can be divided into 10 different steps:

Don’t skimp on water, because you’ll need lots of it: 1 litre of water for each 100 grams of pasta. And if your pot is large enough, use more. To be cooked at its best, pasta require a constant temperature, which is easier to keep with a large amount of water.

Add 10 grams of salt – the equivalent of a rounded teaspoon – for each litre of water.

Oil should only be added in exceptional cases, for instance when the pasta has the shape of large sheets, such as lasagna.

Throw the pasta into the water only when it’s boiling, not before. Long pasta should be lowered into the water in a bunch, while short pasta ought to be strewn into it.

Wait one or two minutes until the water reaches boiling point again.

Mix the pasta around with a long wooden spoon or fork. This will prevent the pasta from sticking together.

Cover the pot with its lid, but not entirely: leave some space (about a third) to allow the steam to get out.

Now the tricky part: how long should I boil the pasta? Well, there is no easy rule here. It all depends on the type and shape of the pasta. Fresh pasta is done much faster than dry commercial pasta. But fresh pasta that has had more time to dry before reaching your kitchen will take relatively more time to cook. Keep in mind that pasta should be soft on the outside and somewhat firm in the middle – al dente  as the Italians say. As you know, commercial pasta often give you an indication on cooking time, this can help. But in any case you should always taste the pasta as it boils in order to know when the right moment has come.

Strain the pasta all at once and shake the sieve thoroughly to drip out all of the water.

Unless you intend to serve them cold, never rinse your pasta in cold water! Doing this will wash off the coat of sticky starch, which helps to blend the sauce with the pasta.

So, now that you have cooked your pasta the Italian way, how do they taste?

I will end this post with another fine quote, this one by Sophia Loren: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”

Buon appetito!

Katharina's Italy

Food & Wine, Practical tips