How to cook spaghetti is not something to be taken lightly. When something goes wrong in a pasta dish, it may as well be in the cooking process. This last task, after the choice of the pasta and sauce, should be the easiest and it is. Only attention and care are necessary. One distraction and can be disaster.
How to cook pasta is a simple process, but there are some practices to be observed. They may be obvious, still not always understood.
I had a friend once who wanted to surprise me with a plate of spaghetti and she did. When I got to her place, dinner was almost ready. To my horror, she had spaghetti boiling in the sauce! No, she wasn’t Italian.
How to cook spaghetti
Boil water, add salt, throw the pasta in and drain when it’s done so it can be mixed with the condiment. Two kitchen utensils are necessary for the cooking: a pot and a colander. Choose a stainless steel colander with side handles, better for heavier cooking. Inserts are used too, your choice.
Pasta pot – Tall, so that more than half of the length of the spaghetti will sink in the water and with a capable belly to accommodate them during the cooking.
For short pasta, tagliatelle or other pasta in nests, it’s more appropriate to use a pot wide and low.
How much water – 4 cups (32 ounces) for every 3 and a 1/2 ounces of pasta – normal serving. You may need more water for long pasta like spaghetti so they can sink easier and faster.
Salt – Use sea salt coarse crystals or kosher salt, about 1/3 of 1 ounce for every 32 ounces of water. Add only when water boils. Why? Because salted cold water takes longer to reach boiling point. Also, salt in cold water may cause black spots on your pot. Wait a few seconds for salt to dissolve before throwing the pasta in. You’ll notice a surge in the boiling.
Throw the pasta in – Pasta goes in all at once. Hold long pasta like spaghetti in your hand, place them in the center of the pot and open your hand to let the fall in a vortex. It may take about a minute for the spaghetti to collapse as they bend into the boiling water. Shorten the time with the help of a long fork. After the boiling gets strong again, stir the spaghetti, so they don’t stick to each other. No lid on the pot. Pasta cooks uncovered. Then regulate the heat to avoid extremes. Water should boil at a good pace, not furiously and not simmering. With the pasta in the pot, water will become a little opalescent. If too cloudy and foamy, quality of the pasta is to blame. While cooking, stir the pasta occasionally.
When is pasta done? – Cooking times on packages are pretty good. However, consider the times as a reference. You are to make the decision. Take a sample to test when cooking time almost over. If it is spaghetti, you don’t even have to taste to check. Just cut the spaghetto with your finger nail. If you see a white central core, spaghetti are not done yet. Try a little later and taste as well this time.
Italians have a term for properly cooked pasta: “al dente“, literally “to the tooth”. It’s when biting through pasta you feel a little resistance. This is probably the most delicate moment of the cooking process. To help, keep in mind that residual heat keeps cooking some extra time even after it’s drained. So if tossed with sauce for a minute or two, take that into consideration and drain pasta accordingly.
Especially in Naples, where pasta is king, people have a reverence for the “al dente” dogma. Their idea of “al dente“, may be considered extreme especially for the north Italians. I knew a Neapolitan that had another term for the cooking time of spaghetti: “corde di chitarra” which is “guitar strings”. He meant really firm to the bite, some cooking time prior to “al dente“. A real extreme on how to cook spaghetti.
Many like stopping the cooking with some cold water before draining the pasta. In case, not advisable. Reason number one: you may toss pasta with sauce and two: pasta will lose too much of the sticky starch layer which attracts the sauce.
Important – Do not add any oil to boiling water in order to keep pasta from sticking together. You may have heard of that. Oil will make pasta slippery. Sauce won’t stick and most of the sauce will be left in the plate.
All you have to do is stirring at the beginning and during cooking occasionally. Just make sure you have enough water for the pasta to move freely.
In the case of lasagna, with the oil trick, damage is under control, as sauce lays flat prisoner between pasta layers. Besides pasta in the oven will continue cooking.
After the pasta is drained, it should retain the amber color and smell, taste should be pleasant. It shouldn’t be gluey or sticky. After cooking pasta volume will grow about three times.
Always save some water from the pasta – You may need to dilute a thick sauce. Also the sticky starch in it serves as a combining factor.
The best way to finish the cooking – It’s by draining the pasta 1 minute or more before al dente cooking time and mixing with the sauce for the remainder.
Pasta is always served right away while smoking hot.
How to cook spaghetti and pasta in general is not so difficult. It is just paying attention and follow the rules. And as they say: “practice makes perfect”.