Surely, you have eaten pasta and know that from restaurant to restaurant, from chef to chef, the result can vary from sublime to poor. Italians, who created the pasta as we know it, have also worked out how to cook it to perfection and always get the same perfect result. Even if you are a refined cook, here is a little review of the rules for getting a plate of pasta like in Italy. Hundreds of years of experience and knowledge have gone in to these few simple instructions.
The pot: Always use high and cylindrical pots that must be able to contain the right amount of water. The rule says 1 liter of water for every 100 grams of pasta. If you use more, pasta will be free to move and cook uniformly. If you use less it will stick and cook badly.
The salt: About 5 to 6 grams of salt per liter of water. Remember also that salt should always be compared to the amount of water and not to the weight of the pasta. It should be thrown into the pot when the water begins to simmer, about three minutes before the pasta. It is useless to rinse the pasta if you have put too much salt. Unfortunately it is ruined as it has absorbed the salt. Throw away and start over.
The doses: You should cook 100 grams of pasta per person for dry pasta and 80 grams for fresh or egg. If you accidentally cook too much, let it cool. The next day you can prepare an amazing pasta omelette or a good salad. Most restaurants give you 80 grams or less portions but they want you to order another course. Sometimes seeing the portions in the restaurants I would like to call the Carabinieri.
Cooking: The pasta should be thrown in one go, and only when the water reaches a full boil. If it is long pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, trenette, etc.), hold it in your fist, bring it on the pot and spread the hand making it open to a vortex. Wait a minute, so that it softens a little, and then help it to fold using a wooden spoon. Spaghetti should never be broken. Linguine and bucatini are also cooked the same way.
The heat: When the water is boiling, do not throw the pasta right in. Lower the flame a little and return the water to a full boil with that lower flame. When you throw the pasta, which being cold, will stop the boiling, raise the flame that will bring the water immediately to boil. Avoid adding oil to the water because it transfers its flavour to the pasta.
The timing: cooking times vary with the quality of the wheat and the size of the pasta. Quality pasta is always made with durum wheat and the times indicated on the packs are generally reliable. The quality of the wheat and the processing are better, and cooking is longer. The fresh egg pasta, for example tagliatelle, cooks in a few minutes, from 2 to 4, the exact time depends on the thickness that is variable. Durum wheat pasta has longer cooking times. Mix often and taste it, so you will be able to judge if it is ready or not. If the pasta has to be sautéed with the sauce, cook it less time, one minute less than the time indicated on the package, remembering that it continues to cook by its own heat until it is transferred to the plate. Al dente does not mean raw. The pasta is al dente when a hard and opalescent very small stain is barely visible at the center of a cooked and sectioned spaghetti. The clearer and less visible it is the more cooked is the spaghetti. For a perfect al dente cooking it should be barely perceptible.
When the pasta is cooked, never stop the cooking pouring cold water over the pasta in the colander. Instead, drain it and dress it quickly, or sauté’ it immediately in its sauce. There is nothing more disappointing than a plate of pasta "too rested". Before draining store half a cup of cooking water, it may serve to soften a too thick sauce. The cheese should be added to the pan or tureen only if it is included in the recipe. Otherwise bring the cheese to the table.
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