Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to serve a perfect pasta

By Andrea

Choose your pasta first. There are mainly two kinds of pasta: ribbed and ribless. Ribbed (= rigata in Italian, hence rigatoni) has the advantage of retaining the sauce, but the downside is that it won't cook evenly because of its structure.

Pasta needs boiling water and a saucepan, even the worst cook in the world knows that. But how much water? Well, a lot, consider 1 liter for every 100g. That would be 4 liters for 400g. Pasta needs to swim.

When the water is boiling add some salt. Don't add it before, as it will slow down the boiling process. Again, there's a rule of thumb to follow: 10g of salt every liter of water. A little less if you're going to use salty sauces.

You're probably thinking this is the part where you add oil to the water. Wrong and useless: if in the end the pasta comes out of the water all stuck together in one piece, next time use more water and buy some, at least decent quality of pasta.

Wait for 30 seconds for the salt to dissolve and pour the pasta. If you're using spaghetti, use your hands to push them down instead of breaking them. Make sure you don't touch the boiling water!

Pasta is at room temperature so it will make the boiling stop. This is a very delicate stage: you have to be quick in bringing back the boil, by covering the pan and turning up the heat. When the water is bubbling again, let the steam go out and turn down the heat, but keep it lively.

Stir the pasta a couple of times while it's cooking so it won't stick to the bottom of the pan. For how long should it cook? A great underestimated reference is the packet itself: there you'll find the number of minutes necessary to get pasta al dente (dente means tooth). Al dente means not too soft nor too raw.

Al dente is the ideal result, and for more than one reason: it's easier to digest than overcooked pasta; pasta keeps cooking until it's cold, so if it's too soft right out of the stove, by the time you're half way eating it, it will be a starchy blob; and last but not least, this is how most of Italians eat it. Once you have a clear idea of what al dente means, still follow the packet instructions, but always taste it before taking it off the heat.

When it's time, have the colander ready in the sink, and drain the pasta. Get rid of all the water (in some cases you might still need a little bit of it. Add the pasta to the sauce, if it's in another pan, and let it go for 2-3 minutes, until everything is well mixed.

If you're preparing a cold pasta dish (like pasta salad) or you're eating it later at work, you can stop the cooking with cold water, after it's drained.

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