Cooking Pasta like an Italian

After living in Italy for seven years, you can imagine I am very particular about my pasta. I’m like an Italian mama…there’s a right way and a wrong way. If you have pasta cooked the right way, it’s a completely different experience…I like to describe it as out-of-body. Yes! It’s that good! And so simple. Here are the basics:

A) Of course, it should be al dente. To achieve this, you need to use a lot of water. I have my go-to pasta pot and I fill it about 3/4 of the way up. You want the water to be at a full rolling boil when you put the pasta in. I don’t use the cooking time on the box/bag, but you can use it as a guideline. I stir often and check it when I start to see that it looks somewhat cooked. I check by tasting. You want to drain it when you taste it and it’s just a tad harder than you want to eat it because it will continue to cook after you remove it from the water. It should have some bite to it. In most American restaurants, pasta is served terribly overcooked. If that’s what you’re used to, it may take a few tries before you really love it done the right way, but I’m more than confident you will.

B) Salt the water…a lot. I buy the biggest containers of kosher salt I can find. You want maybe two tablespoons at least in a pot of pasta water. Not only does it increase the temperature of the water but more importantly, it seasons the pasta so that you don’t lose all the flavor of your sauce when you join it with bland pasta.

C) Never rinse the pasta! The reason is that if you rinse it, you will wash off all the starch and the starch is what makes the sauce stick to your pasta. Another reason real Italian pasta dishes are so amazing.

D) Please don’t cut your pasta before you cook it. If you have to cut it for your kiddos when it’s in their plate, do that, but by the age of two my kids were able to twirl spaghetti with their fork because they got used to doing it. I will post pictures of beautiful plates of pasta twirled into a little nest. That won’t happen if you break it.

E) This might be most important: Besides the ‘doneness’ of the pasta, the biggest difference we see between pasta here and pasta in Italy is that here, typically the pasta is served onto the plate and the sauce is poured over the pasta. Mamma mia! This is bad, very bad. The sauce should always be tossed with the pasta and then served. A little parmesan and/or chopped parsley on top and VOILA! You have a beautiful meal. Remember, you don’t rinse the pasta because you want the sauce to cling to it. You can even leave your pasta a minute or two less done, add a ladle or two of pasta water to the sauce and cook the pasta in it on high, stirring constantly, and the pasta will absorb the sauce even more and be even more delicious. The water is nice and starchy and will add richness to your dish.

I want to hear pasta redemption stories!

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