Everyone enjoys pasta, but not everyone knows how to cook the perfect pasta dish. Given the fact that most pasta recipes are quite simple in nature, it can be tempting to put in minimal effort when cooking up a midweek meal.
However, implementing a few straightforward pasta cooking strategies can transform your dish from just okay to restaurant quality fine dining. Top it off with some arrabbiata pasta sauce and your friends and family will be begging for more!
Make sure your pot is the right size
Pasta expands as it cooks, which means it needs plenty of room in the pot. If you don’t give your pasta enough room (or water), it will quickly become mushy and stick together. For every 500g of pasta you cook, aim to use approximately 4 litres of water. Your pot should be filled to around the 3/4 mark.
Depending on how many servings of pasta you are cooking, this can mean that you might need a pretty big pot!
Use plenty of salt
Why do we add salt to pasta water? Well, there’s a couple of reasons.
To start with, doing so can help improve the flavour of the meal you are cooking, whether it be pasta or rice. In addition to this, adding salt to your water can help reduce the amount of time it takes for the water to boil. So salt away!
Some people prefer to add oil rather than salt to their pot of pasta water but this really isn’t recommended. Doing so can reduce the ability of your sauce to stick to the pasta and can invoke an unpleasant, oily taste and texture.
Ensure water is brought to the boil before you add pasta
We get it — waiting for water to boil can seem like a chore. Unfortunately, it’s just one that you’ll have to deal with, particularly if you want great tasting pasta.
Adding pasta to the pot before the water is hot enough can result in the exterior starch layer breaking down. This will create mushy pasta that sticks together and really doesn’t taste very good at all.
If you’re particularly impatient, you can always boil the water first in the kettle and add it to your pot. This should significantly decrease the waiting time.
Separate your pastas
You’ve probably noticed the significant range of pasta shapes and sizes at the supermarket. There’s a pasta option for everyone, whether you prefer traditional spaghetti or are more of a bowtie kind of person (the official name of bow shaped pasta is farfalle, by the way).
It makes sense that these pastas have different cooking times — they come in different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. If you’re cooking two different types of pastas for a recipe, avoid putting them in the same pot. It’s unlikely that you will be able to get both to an optimal state.
Always save some cooking water
Many pasta recipes request that you save some cooking water. Why is this?
Pasta water contains the excess starch that has been shed by the pasta in the cooking process. This starch may look unpleasant, but it can actually be used to add extra flavour and texture to your sauce.
Reserve approximately a cup of your pasta water before draining. While your pasta is cooling, add the water to your pasta sauce and mix well. You should find that your sauce now has an extra layer of sheen and a richer texture.
Stir, stir, stir!
You’ve probably made the unfortunate mistake of not stirring your pasta before, only to come back to the pot and find that it has congealed into one giant noodle.
Stirring your pasta as it cooks is very important. As soon as your pasta hits the boiling water, you should give it a good stir. Doing so will prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the post. Pasta releases starch as it cooks, which can turn into an unfortunately sticky glue that binds your pasta pieces together. While you don’t have to stir constantly, at least every minute is a good idea, particularly if you are cooking long noodle-shaped pasta.
Add pasta to sauce
If you’re like most of us, your pasta cooking routine probably goes along the lines of cook the pasta, drain the pasta, put the pasta back into the pot, and add your sauce.
Those last two steps? They need to be swapped. Experts advise that you should add your pasta to your sauce, rather than the other way around. Doing so guarantees that your pasta will be well coated and reduces the risk of it sitting in the strainer, getting colder, and sticking together.
Pick your pasta sauce carefully
Finally, it’s time to pick your pasta sauce. Not all sauces are created equally and not all sauces go well with all types of pasta.
Selecting a traditional option — such as arrabbiata pasta sauce — is always a good idea. Arrabbiata sauce has well balanced flavours, is nutritious, and pairs well with most pasta varieties.
When selecting a sauce brand, be sure to go with one that is made from whole ingredients. Opt for organic wherever possible and consider supporting Australian owned businesses.
There you have it! Top tips for cooking the perfect pasta dish. You’re probably feeling pretty hungry right now, so why not test these tips out?