Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Cook Perfect Pasta

Photo Credit: Ryan Tang
Cooking the perfect “al dente” pasta is a secret skill passed down from generation to generation in every Italian family, but for the rest of us lacking ties to the old country, here are a few tips and tricks to help you achieve that flawless bite.  Here's a hint, it all has to do with maintaining the integrity of the starch in your pasta.

Salt your Water.
There have always been arguments for and against adding salt to your pasta water, but unless you are a fan of bland and flavorless pasta, don’t skimp on the salt. Salting your water is your best opportunity to introduce seasoning that will be absorbed into the pasta which adds a dynamic flavor to the dish rather than a dash of salt that simply sits atop the sauce in hard granules.

Another reason to add salt is that it helps keep the starch in pasta from breaking down into a mush. If you’ve ever made or tasted a risotto, you’ll notice it’s developed a creamy almost sticky consistency that comes from the starch breaking down. It’s perfect for a comforting risotto but it has no place in al dente pasta.

Add a teaspoon of Lemon Juice.
In addition to adding a tablespoon of salt to your water, you may want to add a teaspoon of lemon juice. Tap water in many cities has alkaline added which breaks down the starch in pasta faster, so a few drops of acid will offset this effect and help keep your pasta from getting gummy.

Make sure your water is Boiling.
First, you want to have more than enough water in the pot.  It's important that all of the pasta is submerged so that it cooks evenly and there's enough room so that the pasta doesn't stick together.  Also, make sure you always start with boiling water before you add your pasta.  It needs to boil in order to seal the starch into the pasta. Remember, it does not need to be a raging boil. Turn down your heat once it’s reached a high point to prevent an overly vigorous boil from breaking up delicate pasta.

Don't stir too often.
While your pasta is cooking, keep from stirring too frequently.  You want to keep the pasta from sticking to itself and the walls of the pot but that's about it.

Finish cooking your pasta in the sauce.
Cook your pasta for a minute less than instructed and then drain.  Make sure you don't rinse because it takes off a layer of starch which is integral for helping the sauce stick to the pasta.

In a separate pot bring your sauce to a simmer and finish cooking your pasta in the sauce so it can absorb the flavor of the sauce while cooking to the perfect consistency.

And finally... Enjoy!

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