March 11, 2013
March 14, 2013

Whether it be our own local Baltimore, Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC, one of the most favorite dishes in our area includes some sort of pasta!  A favorite food in America.

Even though it has taken a drubbing in recent years, caught up in the center of the anti-carb craze and foresworn by legions of carb-counting dieters.  We still like our pasta.  But in reality, most of us have a box (or two…or four) of dried pasta tucked away in our pantries; we must — right? — since Americans consume almost a quarter of the world’s pasta, the most of any one country (even Italy).

And that’s for good reason: pasta is one of the cheapest and most versatile foods ever invented by humankind. Cooked right, it can be one of the most delicious, too. “Soft as silk floss in the springtime/White as autumn silk, cooked just in time,” wrote the fourth-century Chinese poet Shu Xi of his country’s famed noodles.

We’ve all cooked pasta so many times, it’s hard to imagine there’s anything special to it. Yet we’ve all had those nights when something didn’t taste quite the same; the spaghetti we’ve cooked dozens of times before just didn’t taste as…good.

If one of the things you love about cooking pasta is how easy it is, then you’re in luck. Cooking pasta perfectly every time doesn’t involve any fancy tricks, just a few good tips.

(1)  Water first, right?
Tip #1: Don’t skimp on it! Bring to boil about a gallon of water (four quarts) per pound of dried pasta. You want the boil to be rolling when you put the pasta in, and to keep it rolling after. The constant motion will help cook your pasta evenly and keep it from sticking together.

(2)  Should you salt the water?
Yes! There’s no secret reason: it adds flavor. Use about a teaspoon per quart of water, so if you’re boiling a gallon of water, about four teaspoons. Add it when the water has come to a full boil, just before you put in the pasta.

(3)  Stirring your pasta
with a wooden spoon for a minute or two after immersion will also keep it from clumping together or sticking to the bottom of the pot. Most experts agree that adding oil doesn’t help, and it can actually keep certain sauces from clinging to the cooked pasta.

(4)  When is it done?
Really, whenever it tastes done to you. The shape of the pasta obviously determines how long it takes to cook, but the times given on the box are a good place to start. Things like altitude and whether you’ve keep the water at a rolling boil will have an impact, though. If the box says to cook for 10–12 minutes, start tasting at 10 minutes then every 30 seconds or so thereafter.

(5)  The ideal for most people
, though, is al dente, which you probably know means (roughly) “to the tooth.” Because the outside of the pasta cooks faster than the inside, the interior takes longer to soften. Al dente pasta is soft on the outside but maintains a pleasant firmness when you bite into it (as opposed to “crunchiness,” which means it’s not done). This is important because …

Hot pasta keeps cooking once you drain it. So you don’t want to overcook it in the pot; you’ll end up with mushy spaghetti.  

(7)  Wait, though!
Before you drain the pasta, save about a half cup or so of the cooking water. It’ll come in handy in a minute. 

(8)  Don’t rinse your pasta after draining it — unless you plan to use it cold (like in a pasta salad). Then you want to rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking. But if you’re serving the pasta hot with sauce (or will be baking it, like in a lasagna), rinsing it just washes away a precious layer of starchiness that will help your sauce cling to the pasta.  

(9)  Pasta and sauce are a match made in heaven
, but you can make it more heavenly by following this simple trick which improves pasta immensely. Instead of just adding the sauce and tossing it with the pasta, stir them together gently, in the warm pot, with two forks and then let the sauce and pasta cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, so the pasta becomes imbued with the flavor of the sauce.

(10) If the sauce is too thick
, add the pasta water you saved in increments of about a tablespoon at a time until the sauce is your desired consistency. This thins the sauce without thinning out the flavor. If you’re serving your pasta in pasta bowls, you can also ladle some of the hot water into the bowls to warm them, and then drain them right before you ladle the pasta in. Warm bowls=warm pasta=perfecto!

Source:  www.recipe .com, 3.7.2013

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