One of the best reasons for eating pasta is that, in 15 minutes from start to finish, you can provide yourself with a complete meal. If you want to enjoy cooking and eating pasta at its best, our advice is to buy good quality. Poor quality pasta often ends up sticky and soggy. Italian tradition is to have lots of food. When it's pasta and sauce alone, 4 oz. per person is fine for hearty appetites. When it's being served with a salad, meatballs, or vegetables in the pasta, 3 oz. per person is ok. But always plan for an extra person!
A dish of pasta can turn into a culinary disaster if it has not been p roperly cooked. It needn't be that way if you follow certain rules.
1.- The first one is being there to judge its doneness. 60 seconds cooking too long can really ruin your pasta.
2.- Use a pot that's large enough to accommodate the pasta without crowding. If the pot you use is too small, your pasta will stick to the bottom. And there should be PLENTY of water. For one pound of pasta, you should use at least six quarts of water. Pasta needs room to move freely as it cooks. At a minimum, use nothing smaller than a six-quart pot.
And remember, good quality pasta absorbs a lot of water.
3.- Add salt to the boiling water, about 1 ½ tbs. per pound. Salt adds flavor to the pasta and helps to create a well-seasoned dish. Often, a perfectly seasoned sauce will still taste like it needs "something" because the pasta is unseasoned. Never add olive or vegetable oil to the pasta cooking water. The oil coats the pasta, and prevents sauce from adhering to it when you've put the entire dish together.
4.- Before the pasta goes in, bring the water to a full, rolling boil. Add the pasta as quickly as possible and stir it around just once to separate it. If you're cooking long pasta like spaghetti, push it against the base of the pan and, as you feel it give, keep pushing until it all collapses down into the water. When you add pasta to water that has not yet reached the boiling point, it releases natural starches, which act like glue.
5. Bring the water back to the boil as quickly as possible after adding the pasta, covering the pot. When the water has boiled, though, uncover the pot, and finish cooking uncovered. Put a timer on and give it 10-12 minutes for top-quality pasta, but because this timing varies according to the shape and quality of the pasta, the only real way to tell is to taste it. Stir the pasta two or three times throughout the cooking process. Sometimes you can give it 1 minute's less boiling and then allow an extra minute's cooking while you combine it with the sauce.
6.- You can get it just right by checking the "bite". Pull out a noodle and take a bite. Cook the pasta to the 'al dente' state. When it's the way you like it, it's perfect!
7. Drain it right to avoid the burn. Have a colander ready in the sink then, as you are draining the water, swirl it around the colander, which will heat it ready for the hot pasta. Don't drain it too thoroughly: it's good to have a few drops of moisture still clinging as this prevents the pasta from becoming dry. Place the colander containing the pasta back over the saucepan to catch any drips.
8.- Never rinse pasta. When you rinse pasta, you're washing away most of the starches and nutrients that you were seeking to enjoy.
9.- Once drained, serve the pasta immediately with you favorite sauce. Keep the sauce hot and ready to warm the waiting pasta for serving.
10.- For spaghetti, the very best way to serve it is to use pasta tongs, and always lift it high to quickly separate each portion from the rest. If it cools it goes sticky and gluey, so drain it quickly, serve it quickly and eat it quickly.
When your pasta is prepared with love, it becomes more than just food -- it's a wonderful memory