A couple of years ago I was told by a very good Italian Chef that the secret to Pasta was ‘attitude’! When I asked him what he meant by this, he said that you should concentrate all your attention on the cooking at hand – let nothing else matter. It took me a few years to understand the meaning of this. It also required my doing some serious cooking, and now that I do, I know exactly what he was talking about.
You want to make sure that you have filtered water, plenty of salt, a deep pan, and most important of all, good pasta. Oh yes, you can use cheap pasta, but you won’t get good taste from cheap pasta. But then again, if you don’t know what your missing………..blah blah blah…….!
Be sure you use a large, deep pan. Stainless steel is the best in my book. A good rule of thumb is to always use at least 1 quart of water for each 3.5 ounces of pasta.
If you don’t have filtered water in your kitchen then buy bottled water for this task. Unfiltered water has too much chlorine and it could ruin the pasta…..again, if you don’t know what you are missing…………………!
Use 2 teaspoons of salt for each quarter of water in the pot. Always salt the cooking water. The salt is the key to perfect pasta.
The pasta should be made with only 100% Durum Semolina. The best pasta to use is imported pasta from Italy. Make sure it is made in Italy. The package could say “Imported from Italy”, but could actually be made somewhere else. Do not trust the larger companies, that actually make their pasta in the USA. The pasta quality of larger companies does not measure up. Additionally, if the packaged pasta has an Italian name, that does not mean it is from Italy! If you have a local Artisan who makes good quality pasta, then please opt for this, as I’m a huge fan of buying local if the quality is there.
I prefer to buy De Cecco or Voiello. De Cecco is one of the better brands. High-quality pasta has a golden color with a subtle translucent appearance.
The most important test for cooking pasta is the time it cooks. Usually the time the cooking time is decided by the manufacturer, on the pasta box, but you may have to try it to see if it is done. Various factors could come into play regarding the time it takes to cook the pasta.
You want to add the salt when the water is at a rolling boil. After adding the salt, wait for the water to start boiling again. The salt will have melted completely in the water. Throw the pasta in the pot, taking great care to submerge it completely all at once. Once it is all submerged, stir it as soon as possible with a wooden fork or spoon. Stir pasta as soon as it is dropped into the boiling water and keep stirring every minute or so.
Never add oil, which will coat the pasta and cause it to repel instead of absorb the sauce. Only add oil if you are cooking low quality pasta. This is becuase a lesser quality wheat makes it much easier for the strands to get glued together, the oil prevents this.
Let the pasta cook on a lively fire, stirring it every now and then. Be careful of the cooking time: on Italian packages the cooking time is usually correct. Better to stop cooking a few seconds sooner than later, since the pasta will continue cooking for a little while after you drain it.
How do you know the pasta is cooked? Follow the cooking instructions on the pasta package. If there is not a cooking time, simply sample a strand of the pasta. Break it, and see if the inside is still whitish. That means the pasta is not done. Once the core of the pasta strand has lost its whiteness, you may drain the pasta.
You never want to overcook your pasta. Instead, you want to serve your pasta “al dente”, meaning, “firm to the tooth.” Pasta should be cooked so that it is still firm when bitten. NOTE: only dry pasta should be cooked “al dente” because “fresh” pasta is soft to begin with. Al dente is the most digestible state of pasta. Mushy pasta is not acceptable and harder to digest.
Before draining your pasta, add a glass of cold water to stop the cooking process of the pasta. Drain pasta, making sure you do not drain it too much, because this will cause it to be too dry. The strands need to be glossy with moisture. You could preserve a glassful of the cooking water to add to your sauce. The pasta cooking water helps to form the perfect union between the pasta and the sauce.