How to Cook Pasta


There are two kinds of pasta: fresh and dry.

The only difference in cooking the two is cooking time.

Pasta likes to be cooked in a lot of water. Don't skimp. Bring a big pot of water to a rolling (that is vigorous boil). Add some salt. Add some olive oil. This is an Italian trick: it breaks up the surface tension of the water and keeps the pasta from sticking together. On the other hand, it makes it harder for sauces to stick to the pasta, which is a problem I often have in cooking pasta. Still, I hate stuck-together pasta so much I continue to add oil.

Add the pasta and set the timer. Using a pasta stirrer or fork, stir to separate strands. Cooking time for package pasta (dry) is ten minutes or whatever the package says. Penne takes longer than spaghetti or linguini. If pasta is fresh, the cooking time will be more like 3 or 4 minutes. Watch the pot and start tasting as soon as the water returns to the boil. When the pasta tastes done, it is. That's called "al dente," right to the tooth. A hint is that when the pasta rises to the surface and looks buoyant, it's usually done. Another way of testing for whether pasta is done is to throw it on the ceiling. If it sticks, it's done. I consider this quaint but impractical for day-in-day-out cooking.

Fresh pasta that has been bought in a plastic container refrigerated will tell you how long to cook it, usually about 4 minutes. If you freeze it and cook it frozen, add another five minutes. When you drain the pasta, save a little of the water it's cooked in. You can add it to the sauce if the sauce is dry, or you can pour it back over the drained pasta to keep it from sticking together.

Try other kinds of pasta besides linguini and spaghetti. There are advantages besides variety: the tubular and curved ones hold sauces better than the strands. Also they are easier to get on a fork, therefore less messy. People who are dressed up may appreciate that, whether they realize it or not.