Top Ten Tips For Cooking Pasta

by zesty on November 26, 2008 · 18 comments

I thought I would take some time and share with you some tips that I have learned in the past about cooking one of my favorite foods – pasta.

I hear time and time again from people that have problems cooking pasta.  Whether it be over-cooked, under-cooked, tasteless or all stuck together, a lot of people struggle with cooking pasta.

First of all, 90% of cooking pasta is simply being there. That is, letting the telephone ring through to voice-mail; perhaps leaving guests in the living room talking amongst themselves and simply keeping your focus on the task at hand. By tending to the pasta, you’ll be able to do the only test available to judge its doneness: to taste.

These tips today will hopefully help you in the future when you are craving the starch that I love so much.

Follow along and by all means add your tips in the comments below as I may have missed some other great techniques.

Ten Tips for Cooking Pasta

  1. All pasta is not created equal. Choose a brand with a solid reputation in the marketplace. Depending on your location the brands may vary.
  2. Use a pot that’s large enough to accommodate the pasta without crowding. For one pound of pasta, an eight-liter pot is good; a ten-liter pot is better. Pasta needs room to move freely as it cooks. At a minimum, use nothing smaller than a six-liter pot.
  3. Use plenty of water. For one pound of pasta, you should use at least six liters of water.
  4. Add salt to the water. About 1 Tbsp per liter of water. Salt adds flavor to the pasta that helps to create a well-seasoned dish.
  5. Bring the water to a full, rolling boil before adding the pasta. One of the prime causes for pasta sticking together is that the water had not yet come to a full boil. When you add pasta to water that has not yet reached the boiling point, it releases natural starches, which act like glue. Since the pasta is simply sitting in the water at the time, the strands stick together.
  6. Keep the heat up and get it back to a boil quickly. In the case of pasta strands, like spaghetti or linguine, stir the pasta until it has become submerged in the cooking water, then cover the pot until the water returns to the boil. When the water reaches boil again, uncover the pot and finish cooking uncovered.
  7. Stir the pasta two or three times throughout the cooking process. Pasta cooks in eight to ten minutes.
  8. Never add olive oil to the pasta cooking water. The olive oil coats the pasta, and prevents sauce from adhering to it when you’ve put the entire dish together.
  9. Cook the pasta to the ‘al dente’ state. The only way to judge this is by tasting.  Note there will be a small amount of carryover cooking between the time you remove the pasta from the stove, drain in the sink, and combine with the sauce.
  10. Never rinse pasta. When you rinse pasta, you’re washing away most of the starches and nutrients that you were seeking to enjoy in the first place.

So be there. Be attentive. Taste, and learn when pasta has cooked to the consistency that you like. Follow these ten little steps, and you’ll develop a reputation as a pasta guru.

Zesty Tip: When cooking pasta, regardless of the sauce you are using, I always like to add a little bit of the pasta water to the sauce to add great flavor.  Try it next time and tell me what you think.

I hope you have a great Wednesday and I look forward to hearing your tips as well.

Take Care

zesty

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 coco

tip 8 and 10 are new for me. Thanks for sharing, very useful!!!

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2 Megan

Great tips! I didn’t know about #8, and I definitely never thought to add some of the pasta water to the sauce! Thanks Zesty!

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3 VeggieGirl

Great tips!!

Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving!! :-)

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4 Bob

Good tips. I didn’t know about 8, but I often add pasta water to the sauce. Have an awesome Thanksgiving! :)

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5 HangryPants

I would also just add that if you’re going to be further cooking the pasta, i.e. baking it or adding a hot sauce that will further cook the pasta, cook the pasta even less or it will turn to mush and no one likes pasta mush. :D

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6 Lisa

Thanks! I love making pasta.

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7 ttfn300

the only time you might want to rinse pasta is for a cold pasta salad… but i love the starchy cooking liquid, so long as I rmeember to save some :)

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8 Nick

Nice tips, but doesn’t rinsing the starchy liquid help prevent sticking? Also, I’ve heard it’s different for whole wheat pasta and that you should rinse it, but I forget the reasons why…

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9 Gabi @ Mamaliga

Zesty!

Great tips.

May I add one important step my Italian Mom in Law from Tuscany taught me:

Always give a generous stir right after you pour the pasta into the boiling water.

Don’t ask me why :-)

thanks!
Gabi.

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10 zestycook

Thanks everyone for the nice comments.

ttfn300 – Good point

Nick – Rinsing the pasta after it is cooked will just remove flavor. It will not prevent sticking of the pasta after it is cooked. To prevent sticking you can toss it with a little olive oil after it is cooked if you are not putting it in or with a sauce.

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11 Biz

Thanks for the tips Zesty!

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12 Tracis Stark

This is a great top ten list! You can find a bunch of them on my friends site http://www.toptentopten.com/cat/Food

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13 Culinary Cory

I would also suggest to be aware of the type of pasta you are using and it’s purpose. A hearty pasta works better in baking versus something that is really ment for soups.

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14 them apples

Always, always, always ignore the recommended cooking times on the side of the packet. 12 to 15 minutes is way too long, whatever it says on the pack. 8 mins, 10 max is normally enough.

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15 Val Brungardt

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16 Andy

I started doing this one trick that has made every pasta dish better. Reserve about 2 cups of the pasta water and reduce it down to a syrupy state. From there you can add your sauce and stir it in. The result is your sauce becoming very velvety and the pasta well coated.

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