The Guide to Making Perfect Pasta

The way pasta is cooked also affects its healthiness. For the healthiest and tastiest way, you want to cook the pasta al dente, which means “to the tooth” or “to the bite.” If overcooked, the GI index will rise, meaning pasta that is cooked al dente is digested and absorbed slower than overcooked mushy pasta.

So to make your pasta healthy and delicious, follow the tips below:

Use a large pot: Size matters. The pasta should be swimming in a sea of water because it will expand while cooking. If there is not enough water than the pasta will get mushy and sticky. The average pasta pot size is between 6 and 8 quarts, and it should be filled about 3/4 of the way or about 4-5 quarts with water for 1 pound of pasta.

Fill the pot with cold water: This goes for cooking anything with water. Hot water dissolves pollutants more quickly than cold, and some pipes contain lead that can leak into the water. Just to be safe, always use cold water from the tap and run the water for a little before using.

Heavily salt the water: Adding salt to the water is strictly for flavor. You want to salt the water as it is coming to a boil. While the pasta is cooking, it absorbs the salt adding just that extra touch to the overall meal. There is an old wives tale that says salt will also make the pasta water boil faster. This is not completely the case. Adding salt to water elevates the boiling point and to increase the boiling point of 1 quart of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit you would need 3 tablespoons of salt. And, that is way too much salt for anyone’s taste buds.

Do not put oil in the pot: Do not add oil to your pasta cooking water! And that’s an order! Olive oil is said to prevent the pot from boiling over and prevent the pasta from sticking together. But, the general consensus is that it does more harm than good. It can prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta. Since oil is less dense than water and is composed of hydrophobic molecules, it creates a layer across the top of the water. When the pasta is drained, it is poured through this oiled layer and leaves a fresh coat of oil on the pasta.

Make sure the water is boiled: For all the impatient cooks out there, just wait that extra minute until the water is boiling with big bubbles. The boiling temperature is what prevents the pasta from getting mushy. That first plunge into the boiling water is critical to the texture of the final product. It will also help you time the pasta better.

Stir: Do not forget to stir. It may sound obvious, but this simple step can easily be forgotten through everyday distractions and the rush of cooking dinner. Without stirring, the pasta will for sure stick together and cook unevenly.

Take the lid off: Once you add the pasta, wait for the water to come back to a rolling boil and then remove the lid. This is just so you don’t have that white foam exploding over the edges of your pot like Mt. Vesuvius. An alternative tip is to leave the lid on but keep it propped open with a wooden spoon.

Cook, Time & Test:  Yes, you can follow the timing on the box or package of pasta. But, the best timer is your mouth. Start tasting the pasta at 15-20 second intervals, from a minute or two before you think the pasta might be ready. It is recommended to take the pasta out at about 4 minutes before the package time. Then add it to the sauce and let it finish cooking for a minute or two until it is al dente. This method should be used with only a proportionate amount of sauce. You do not want to have a huge pot of sauce for a pound or less of pasta.

Don’t drain all of the pasta water: Pasta water is a great addition to the sauce. Add about a ¼-1/2 cup or ladle full of water to your sauce before adding the pasta. The salty, starchy water not only adds flavor but helps glue the pasta and sauce together; it will also help thicken the sauce. The way you drain the pasta can also affect the flavor and texture. If cooking long pasta such as linguini or spaghetti, try using tongs or a pasta fork to transfer the pasta from the water to the sauce. You want to marry the sauce and the pasta as quickly as possibly. With short pasta, it is ideal to have a pasta pot that has a built in strainer or use a colander in the sink. Just make sure you don’t let the pasta sit too long or it will stick together.

Don’t rinse cooked pasta: Adding oil to pasta is not the only culprit to preventing the sauce and pasta from harmoniously mixing. Rinsing the cooked pasta under water does just the same. The starch on the surface contributes flavor and helps the sauce adhere. If you rinse the water, you rinse away the starch.