If you know the tricks, pasta is one of the easiest foods to cook. By following some simple guidelines, you can ensure perfect pasta every time -- whether you're cooking a romantic dinner for two, or a welcoming casserole large enough for a group of friends. Learn the essentials here!
Do's and don'ts
DO follow the package directions for best results.
DON'T use the directions from one manufacturer for another manufacturer's product since pasta products can vary in size and thickness.
DO use a large pot (8-quart capacity is ideal) with lots of water -- at least four to six quarts for every 1 pound of pasta. Add salt, if desired, allowing 1 tablespoon of salt for every pound of pasta.
DON'T worry about measuring the specific amount of water.
DO use a timer to accurately follow the cooking times called for on the package.
DON'T rely on guesswork for the cooking time since it's easy to get sidetracked on other meal preparation tasks.
DO set your stove temperature high enough to bring the pasta water to a rapid, rolling boil and maintain that boil throughout the entire cooking time.
DON'T let the pasta simmer.
DO stir the pasta when it first goes in the water and occasionally during cooking.
DON'T cover the pasta pot -- it will boil over.
DO begin testing for doneness a few minutes before the package directions indicate it will be done. Test by cutting or biting the pasta. If there is a small white dot of uncooked core, the pasta is cooked "al dente," or to the tooth. For softer pasta, wait until there is no white uncooked core showing. If planning to use the cooked pasta in a baked dish, undercook by one-fourth the cooking time.
DON'T rinse the pasta unless you are planning to use it in a cold pasta salad.
For hot dishes, DO add the cooked, drained pasta immediately to the sauce and serve.
For perfect pasta every time
- In a large pot (8-quart capacity is ideal), heat 4 to 6 quarts of water to a rapid, rolling boil for one pound of dry pasta. (You can adjust this amount depending on how much pasta you are cooking.) Add salt, if desired, allowing 1 tablespoon of salt for every pound of pasta.
- When the water reaches a rapid, rolling boil, if salt is desired, add 1 tablespoon for every 1 pound of pasta. Then add the pasta gradually, stirring at the same time. Allow the water to return to a rapid boil.
- Stir the pasta when it first goes into the water, when the water returns to a rapid boil, and occasionally during cooking to prevent it from sticking.
- Begin timing the pasta after the water returns to a rapid boil. Follow the package directions for cooking times for the best results. Each manufacturer has tested their brands and shapes for the best cooking times.
- Use a long-handled fork or spoon to taste for doneness. For pasta cooked "al dente," which means "to the tooth" in Italian, it should be slightly chewy with a very small white dot of uncooked core at the center. For more tender pasta, there should be no trace of white uncooked core.
- Drain, but DO NOT rinse the pasta unless it is to be used in a cold salad, reserving a small amount of the pasta cooking liquid. Toss the pasta immediately with sauce and, if the sauce appears too thick, add some of the reserved cooking liquid a little at a time until the desired consistency is achieved.
- If the pasta will be used in a cold salad, drain, rinse with COLD water, and immediately drain again. Then proceed to prepare your dish.