Perfect pasta should be cooked in the style Italians call “al dente”, which translates literally as “to the tooth.” Al dente pasta is tender on the outside, but not totally soft in the center. The softer exterior absorbs the flavor of the sauce, while the pasta still has enough structure to provide a nice contrast of textures on the palate. Overcooked pasta is gummy and unappealing. Fortunately for pasta lovers, cooking perfect pasta is easy to do.
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Use a 6-8 quart pot, so the water won’t boil over while the pasta is cooking.
- Do not add salt or oil to the water. The salt is not necessary, and the oil will coat the pasta, making the sauce less able to penetrate the soft exterior.
- Add 1 pound of pasta to the pot. In order to keep the pasta from sticking together, stir it frequently during the first few minutes of cooking. When the pasta begins to cook, starch is exuded, coating the exterior of the pasta. If the pasta isn’t stirred, this will cause the strands to stick together. After a few minutes, this coating is dissolved in the water, and the pasta can be left to boil without stirring.
- Begin timing the pasta as soon you add it to the water.
- Adjust the heat to keep the water just boiling.
- Pasta cooking time varies, depending on the wheat used for the pasta, the shape, whether it is fresh or dried, the storage conditions, humidity, and a host of other factors. The manufacturer will list a recommended cooking time range on the package. Check the time, and subtract 2 minutes from the lower end. This is the time when you’ll want to begin checking the pasta to see if its done.
- To check for doneness, scoop out a piece of pasta, and slice into it with a knife or fork. If the center is solid and white, continue cooking for another minute and check again. If there is only a slight hint of white, bite into the pasta to confirm that it’s done. If not, cook another 30 seconds and check again.
- When done, drain the pasta through a colander. Some sauce recipes, like pesto, require a few tablespoons of pasta water to be combined with the sauce, so check before disposing of the pasta water. Do not rinse the pasta, this will change the texture by washing away the outer coating.
- Combine the pasta with sauce, and serve immediately.