A while ago I read on the newspaper about a couple of American girls. They were having a lovely holiday in Italy, so they decided to cook pasta. And they almost set fire to their place. Apparently, they didn't know that to cook pasta you need water.
When you grow up in Italy, you learn to know pasta since the day you are born. I ate spaghetti before I got my first teeth and always watched it cooked by my mother, grandmother, aunt, grandaunt, cousin, babysitter, friend's mother, friend's grandmother, friend's aunt... Everyone, basically.
BUT the truth is cooking pasta is not that obvious, even for Italians, so I prepared you a list of 5 tips to cook the perfect Italian pasta! Once you master this basic process, there is no limit but your fantasy.
1. Pasta is cooked in boiling water
Not sauce, not stock. Scorching hot water. Do not ever, for any reason, put the pasta in the pot when the water is still cold, otherwise it will lose most of its consistency.
If you want to know when it's the perfect time to put the pasta in, just wait until the inside of your pot looks like a geyser ready to erupt.
2. The water has to be salted
When someone tells me they don't like pasta very much and I ask them why, most of the time the response is that pasta tastes of nothing. Which is true and necessary, since pasta is supposed to be the base for a rich toppings and sauces.
Pasta doesn't have a particular flavour on its own, unless it's filled like ravioli or the dough has some added ingredient, truffle for example. This is why it is necessary to add salt to the water where you boil it. It doesn't really matter when you put the salt. Before boiling is just as okay as after boiling, just remember to add a handful of it every 1-2 portions.
You can also play around with different flavours of salt. I have a jar of basil salt which I use when I want to add tomato sauce to my pasta, one of black salt which goes very well with seafood and so on.
Just salt it.
3. Stir every couple of minutes
This is crucial, especially during the first minutes of boiling. It prevents the pasta from sticking together and forming concrete-like balls of carbohydrates, which would be really hard to separate later. You will also avoid the pasta sticking to the bottom of the pan.
The best way to do this is with a silicon or wooden spoon. You should avoid metal utensils, first because they get really hot really quickly, second because they can scratch the bottom of your pan and make it even easier for the pasta to stick on it.
4. Trust your taste
Yes, much more than the time you find written on the package. Many factors can influence the cooking time of pasta, for example whether the water is boiling a lot or just a bit.
In the end, the only one who truly know how do you like the consistency of your pasta is you, however I suggest you to try and cook it al dente. This way, you will make sure your packed lunch doesn't become a mushy blob.
How to recognize al dente? It's tricky. Al dente is that particular moment when the pasta is soft, yet still chewy. Keep tasting it while it cooks. You will know when the time is right, if you listen to your tongue.
5. Don't drain all the water
The bonus tip for when you're cooking something saucy. While it cooks, pasta releases part of its starch in the water, which makes it a perfect clotting agent! If you add it to a tomato sauce, it will help you make it smooth and creamy, adding flavour as well.
Keep the creamy power in your pan, not down the sink.