June 16, 2016
Pasta is so often a busy family cook’s lifeline—it’s quick cooking, versatile, and beloved. Kids might even gobble up all their veggies when they’re mixed with everyone’s favorite carb. And with gluten-free pasta getting better and better, it’s even a staple in gluten-free homes. The best part, of course, is that pasta is easy to cook. Anyone can do it well—right?
Right. Sort of.
Though the technique for cooking pasta perfectly is easy, it’s not the brainless boil-until-it’s-soft approach that so many home cooks take. In fact, with just a little bit of technique, you can cook pasta like a pro and it will taste even better.
Yes, pasta can taste BETTER.
Plus, the pasta cooking technique that I show in the video provides you with a trick that helps pasta sauce adhere better. Major bonus.
Here are the how-to details for cooking dried pasta perfectly:
How to Cook Pasta Perfectly
1. Bring a large stockpot (ideally one with a perforated insert) of heavily salted water to a full rolling boil. Use 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 gallon of water per 1 pound of pasta (you can reduce the salt if necessary for health reasons). DO NOT add oil to the water.
2. Add pasta, stir, then begin measuring cooking time. Cook pasta 2-3 minutes fewer than indicated on the package.
3. To drain: If using a pot with a perforated insert, pull the insert out and leave the pot with the cooking water on the stove. Otherwise, scoop the pasta out of the pot with a perforated pasta scoop. If you don’t have a pasta insert or scoop, use a mug to carefully scoop out a cupful of cooking water before draining the pasta in a colander. The goal here is to reserve a good deal of pasta cooking water.
And, WHATEVER YOU DO, do not rinse the pasta!
4. Make sure that your sauce is in a large skillet and, once hot, add the freshly cooked/drained pasta. If you’re scooping the pasta directly from the water into the skillet, allow some of the cooking water to drip into the skillet, too.
5. Toss pasta to coat and then add 1-2 ladles of cooking water (depending on the thickness of your sauce and how much water has already made it into the skillet). Toss more to bring all of the flavors together. Take sauced pasta off of the heat before adding cheese and finishing with a drizzle of high quality olive oil.
How to Pre-Cook Pasta Perfectly
I used to think that you had to cook pasta to order for it to come out well, but it turns out that’s not true! You can par-cook pasta up to 3 days ahead and still serve perfectly al dente pasta the night of. Here’s how:
1. Bring a large stockpot (ideally one with a perforated insert) of heavily salted water to a full rolling boil. Use 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 gallon of water per 1 pound of pasta (you can reduce the salt if necessary for healthy reasons). DO NOT add oil to the water.
2. Add pasta, stir, then begin measuring cooking time. Cook pasta for half of the time indicated on the package.
3. Drain the pasta completely of water, making sure to reserve the cooking water for later use. (See step 3 above, in directions for How to Cook Pasta Perfectly for details on reserving some cooking water.)
Do not rinse the pasta!
4. Drizzle the pasta with a tiny bit of olive oil, 1-2 teaspoons per pound of pasta. Toss to coat and spread the pasta on a sheet pan to cool.
5. Once completely cooled, put pasta in an airtight container or ziplock bag for storage in the fridge. The pasta will stay good for up to 3 days.
6. To reheat: If possible, keep your sauce a little runny. Place sauce in a large skillet and, once hot, add pasta. Toss to coat and then add one or two ladles of reserved cooking water (less for runny sauces, more for thick ones; if you were unable to reserve cooking water, you can use broth or regular water). Toss more to bring the flavors together and heat pasta through. Take sauced pasta off of the heat before adding cheese and finishing with a drizzle of high quality olive oil.
To reheat a large amount of pasta (over 1 lb): Dunk pre-cooked pasta in boiling water for 30 seconds before placing in a skillet with hot sauce.