Pasta tips and tricks you may already know yourself and some you may learn here.
Here are recommendations, advice, suggestions that will help you making your cooking experience easier and more enjoyable.
Keep in mind that recipes, mine and others are as accurate as they can be. It can be like pasta cooking time on the package, a very good indication. You are the ultimate judge and decision maker. Explanation to why is simple and logic.
A recipe may call for “a small handful of black olives’ or “1-2 pinches of crumbled dried chili” or “juice and zest of 2 lemons”. You are given enough information, but you’ll have to rely on your interpretation and judgment on those calls.
I can tell you to use 6 San Marzano tomatoes in a sauce; juice and weight may vary. Or, if you need a small onion, you will know. Even you would have the exact weight or circumference of the onion, nobody could give you an assurance on the properties, concentration and intensity of the flavor.
Every time it’s a new original
Cooking doesn’t lend itself to be a perfect science. t’s more like art. Each time the dish is an original. You can make a copy of it, of which nobody could tell the difference, if you are so good, but it won’t be exactly the same.
Cooks in restaurants don’t use scales and measures. Speed would be severely compromised. Yet they can send out consistent quality dishes. They could not guarantee the same amount of ingredients was used in the same dish each time to the last grain of salt.
That is why cooking can be fun. Every time it’s a new original.
Basic pasta tips and tricks
Non-calcareous water is the ideal for cooking pasta.
Covering the pot for a few seconds after throwing the pasta in is a way not to lose the boiling too long.
After throwing the pasta into the boiling water, in the case of long rigid pasta (like spaghetti), wait a few seconds before stirring, one for the water to regain boiling and two for the pasta to become soft enough and so more manageable. Wait 1 minute and more with ribbon pasta in nests, so they can be untangled. For short pasta, stir as soon boiling re-starts.
Finish dish, when possible, with mixing pasta in the sauce so the flavors mingle better. For this purpose, drain pasta a little before al dente, as it’ll finish cooking in the mixing.
For more in depth information see how to cook spaghetti and pasta in general.
Always save some water when draining pasta
You may need to add to sauce to loosen pasta and to create an emulsion (a combination of two or more elements to form a dense liquid substance), cases like in spaghetti cacio e pepe and pasta butter and cheese.
Choice of pasta shapes
Besides the appearance, pasta shapes are better when paired with the right sauce. Short big shapes of pasta are good with heavy robust and spicy sauces. Light condiments like butter and cheese or aglio e olio, don’t stick well to penne or rigatoni. Long strands of pasta like spaghetti captures it better. Ribbon pasta like fettuccine, tagliatelle, are best for creamy dishes.
Why put salt when water boils and not before or after
Water at sea level boils at 100°C or 212°F. If water salted before, boiling point is slightly increased and it’ll take a little longer for water to boil. Pouring salt while pasta is cooking will produce momentarily a surge in temperature. Also the pot may get black spots if salt is added to cold water.
What kind of salt, fine or coarse?
Clearly coarse was used because was cheaper and almost everybody in Italy continues to do so. Some claim that using fine salt results in a bitter taste. Sea salt is the preferred kind.
Why use wood cooking utensils
Here are some of the advantages.
- They won’t affect the taste especially in an acidic tomato sauce, like metal may.
- They don’t conduct heat, even when forgotten in the pot.
- They are very durable and light.
- They won’t scratch delicate surfaces.
- They are cheap.
Don’t use soft wood utensils like pine. They are difficult to clean and sauces can even penetrate wood. Bamboo wood is very durable and hard and doesn’t break like pine when used disciplining bad kids’ behavior (don’t take me seriously, but I am talking from the receiving end)
More pasta tips and tricks
- Pasta must be served smoking hot. Baked pasta has to rest for about 15 minutes before serving, so it will compact. It’ll still be smoking hot.
- Best tomatoes to use for pasta sauces are San Marzano or the plum shaped. They are sweeter than most round ones, which are good for salads. There are other small varieties, pomodorini and pachino, small, but very flavorful better for certain sauces.
- Always remove skin of tomatoes easily by dropping them for 30 seconds in hot water. Remove seeds as well, as they give a bitter taste.
- Flat leaves parsley, also called Italian parsley, best to use as it is more flavorful.
- Although it is not necessary, and it’s seldom mentioned, it goes per sé that the best ingredients are Italian brands of pasta, for cheeses parmigiano Reggiano first and good second grana Padano. For oil, extra virgin olive oil is best.
- Never cheese with seafood pasta, like with shrimp, clams, mussels, tuna, and all. The reason is simple. You won’t be able to appreciate the delicate flavor, overwhelmed and contrasted sharply by the dominant flavor of cheese. I know that there are tons of recipes to the contrary. In Italy, cheese and fish are a despised combination. They don’t mix. It’s like the devil and the holy water. But it’s what you like. I’ve known people not able to enjoy dinner without sipping coffee throughout. Some, like me, prefer wine.
- Butter should be fresh and unsalted is preferred. Adding a little oil to butter, will raise the temperature a little and the ingredients will cook better and faster.
- It’s a good practice to have extra grated cheese at the table.
Basil is a very delicate herb. Fresh is the best way to use and the only recommended way in most cases as in pasta alla Norma. It cannot be kept in the refrigerator as leaves are very sensitive to cold and will turn black. Chopping with a knife may produce black marks. Best is tearing leaves by hand at time of use.