By: Jodie Shield, RD
Thanks for your tremendous response to my Linguine with White Clam Sauce recipe! Several of you asked about how to actually cook the pasta. So many good questions ranging from, “Do I have to use salt in the cooking water?” to “Why are my noodles mushy? Here are some of my favorite pasta cooking pointers. Plus, I searched YouTube and found this very informative video from the Pasta Show.
In my opinion, the secret to cooking pasta is to use a large pot filled with plenty of water. If there’s not enough water in the pot, the pasta – which releases a lot of starch when cooking – will be sticky and clump together. I use a 12 quart pasta pot that I picked up at Williams-Sonoma (No, I am not sponsored by them but I wish I was!) The main reason I like this pot is that it comes with a colander insert. You place the colander in the pot, fill it with water, bring it to a boil and cook your pasta. When the pasta is done, all you have to do is lift the colander out of the pot. Here’s the best part: you’re left with a full pot of the fabulous starchy pasta water which really comes in handy. For example, adding a little bit of pasta water to your sauce will help it adhere to the pasta better. If your pasta has to sit for awhile, adding pasta water will add back moisture. And my favorite trick is to use pasta water when I make chilled pasta salads because this enables me to use less mayonnaise or oil which helps trim calories and fat. Keep in mind , you don’t have to buy this particular pot, but make sure you use a very large pot and scoop out some of the pasta water before you pour it down the drain..
The National Pasta Association offers these additional tips for preparing perfect pasta.
- Heat four to six quarts of water to a boil for each pound (16 ounces) of dry pasta.
- Once the water has boiled, add one tablespoon of salt for each pound of pasta, if desired. Salt doesn’t make a difference in terms of how the pasta cooks – it’s simply a matter of taste preference.
- Add the pasta gradually after the water reaches a rolling boil (or bubbles furiously). Allow the water to return to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly. Cook the pasta, uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking.
- Follow the package directions for cooking times. Each manufacturer has tested its pasta for the best cooking time. But if you plan to use the pasta as part of a dish that requires additional cooking, like stuffed shells, it’s best to slightly under cook it.
- To see if the pasta is cooked properly, use a long-handled fork or spoon, and taste to see if it’s “firm to the bite,” yet cooked through and doesn’t stick to your teeth.
- Don’t rinse cooked pasta with cold water unless a recipe specifically indicates that you should. Rinsing cools the pasta rapidly and stops it from cooking.
Follow these tips and your pasta will be perfect every time. Got any tips you’d like to share?