Why talk about how to cook pasta? Well, I think the art of cooking pasta is somewhat overlooked. Much effort goes into the sauce; maybe not so much on the foundation of the dish--the pasta itself. Not that a whole lot of effort is required: just the right technique.
So I think it's worth spending a few moments to consider the elements of successful pasta-cooking: water, heat, salt, motion, and time (among a few other things)...
The starting point is having your sauce 100% ready to go. I also have the tongs poised for action because when the pasta is hot, I'm going to immediately put it into the the sauce. The goal is to have the pasta absorb as much of the sauce's flavor as possible: as pasta cools, its starch gelatinizes and it loses its ability to absorb sauce. Here I'm showing a fabulously simple pasta sauce: garlic (2 cloves, minced) sauteed for 1 minute in olive oil (3 tablespoons). Other sauces you might consider are:
The recipe normally specifies the amount of pasta (in weight). A general guideline (depending on the sauce) is that a pound of pasta will serve 4 to 6. Here, I've weighed out a 8 oz. of pasta to go with my garlic-and-olive-oil sauce.
A generous quantity of water (4 to 5 quarts) ensures that the pasta will cook without sticking. For 4 quarts of water, use at least a 6-quart pot. Shown here is my 8-quart stock pot, which I'm filling about half-way up.
When the water is boiling, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt. If you don't salt the water your pasta will have a bland taste and you'll be tempted to overdo the sauce or load it up with cheese to compensate. So, save yourself from these potential extra calories by salting the water. Also, remember the chef's credo: every element of a dish should taste delicious on its own. Salting the water will help you achieve this.
Motion and Time
...and stir continuously for the first 1 to 2 minutes of the cooking time. In the first minute or so of cooking, the pasta's surface is quite sticky: stirring during this crucial time will prevent the strands from gluing themselves together.
Cook the pasta, uncovered, for the time indicated on the package. I start check for doneness a couple of minutes before the end of the prescribed cooking time. Here I'm using a serrated knife to easily pull out some strands to taste.
Before the end of the cooking time, scoop out a couple of ladles-worth of cooking water and reserve. The starch-infused cooking water is handy where you might want to add some extra moisture into the finished pasta dish.
~ Serve immediately ~
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