How to Cook Pasta
How to cook pasta: the secrets to cooking the Italian staple… like an Italian!
For some years now, I’ve wanted to learn how to cook pasta just right… like Italians do. And the feeling just gets stronger with every trip to Italy: Naples, Rome, Milan… up and down the pretty peninsula, it simply amazes me how ubiquitous this food is! Kind of like chili peppers or tortilla are throughout Mexico. But while those things are synonymous with family and home, pasta makes me think of vacation, beauty and fun!
I still remember my first dinner at a restaurant in Italy: I could not believe the endless variety of pasta dishes on that menu. The sauces included everything from porcini mushrooms to seafood and from wild boar to truffle! There was, however, no chicken to be found, definitely no spaghetti with meatballs, and when I asked if they had fettuccine Alfredo, the answer was shocking: “Who the heck is Alfredo?” The lesson there: many of the things we consider typically Italian… are totally unheard of in Italy!
At the time, my Italian wasn’t exactly fluent, and I felt like simply figuring out what to order would be impossible… Thankfully, a charming waiter helped me out, with a delightfully Italian mix of words and hand gestures. That was when I learned another thing that for every Italian is as obvious as two plus two equaling four: pasta, like risotto, is served as a stand-alone dish. Ask for it as a side, and people will look at you like you’re crazy!
Thus my love for pasta was born. But did I know how to cook pasta just like an Italian? Not until recently. A few weeks ago, however, I went to my friend’s house for dinner. She’s from Florence and every time she makes pasta it tastes absolutely amazing. I decided it was time to learn the secrets once and for all, so I joined her in the kitchen and took notes! The procedure is simple enough, but I guess little tweaks here and there can make a big difference. After all, perfection is in the details… So read on, and I’ll tell you how to cook pasta the right way: Italian style!
How to cook pasta, the step-by-step guide
- First of all, I suggest choosing a pot that’s big enough, and fill it with water three-quarters of the way. She says the Italian rule of thumb is one liter for every 100 grams of pasta you’ll be cooking. That’s about a quart of water, or 35 fl.oz., for every 3.5 ounces of pasta.
- Now we’ll place the pot on a high flame and as soon as the water starts boiling we’ll add coarse salt. But don’t you dare put anything else in there… I say this because I was accustomed to adding a wee bit of oil to the water. When I told my friend that, she nearly kicked me out of the house. Turns out the Italian pasta police will be coming for you if you dare to put oil in you pasta water… that’s a big No-No!
- As for the pasta itself, it should be added all at once, to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pot. With long pasta such as spaghetti, you can use what they call the “Shanghai” technique: hold it tightly in your fist, then let it spiral into the pot. If the top ends remain above water, as they probably will, simply wait for the lower ends to soften then gently help the pasta in with a wooden spoon. But whatever you do, NEVER break spaghetti in half before cooking them! Apparently, that’s another one of those culinary crimes Italians don’t take lightly…
- The pasta should be cooked for the time shown on the box, uncovered, stirring occasionally and tasting it before straining. Maybe while you’re waiting you can set the table nicely, so everything looks great in case you want to show off your masterpiece on social media… 😉
- When the pasta’s done, all that’s left to do is strain it with a colander (quickly, or it will get mushy!) and mix in the sauce.
- What kind, you say? Well, as I said, Italy has a million options. But for starters, you can never go wrong with a simple sauce made with tomato and basil… topped with a hearty sprinkle of freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
So now you know how to cook pasta like a seasoned (and Italian) chef! All that’s left if finding your perfect recipe. Just don’t use ketchup or mayo… in pasta’s homeland, stuff like that could get you expelled from the country!