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Perfect Pasta

Perfect Pasta

There is no doubt about it; Italian food is one of the most beloved cuisines there is.  Its simplicity makes it easily adaptable to the many cultures of the world.  While Italian food has made its way around the world into people’s hearts and stomachs, some of the most basic “rules” have been lost in translation. One such rule is how to cook and dress pasta.  While there are definitely wrong ways to get pasta sauce on pasta (read dumping the sauce directly on top of the pasta), there are several right ways to do it, depending on your family and where in Italy you grew up. I would like to share with you how our family dresses our pasta.

First, probably two of the biggest mistakes most non-Italians make are not salting the water or not using nearly enough salt. You should use about a “pugno” or a fistful of salt per gallon of water. That is about 3 tbsp of salt. Yes, I am aware that this is A LOT of salt, but that is what you want. One of the most frequent questions I get asked about salting the water is “When are you supposed to put the salt in? Right when you put the water on to boil or right after you have placed the pasta in the boiling water?” Either way is fine, but in our house we wait until we add the pasta to the boiling water. Once the pasta starts to soften up, you are going to want to taste it, more for the saltiness than the readiness. Imagine that you’re cooking your pasta in water from the Mediterranean Sea; you want to be able to taste the salt on the pasta. If you are afraid of putting too much salt in your pasta water, start small and work your way up. You can always add more, but once you put the salt in the water, there is no going back.

This would be a great moment to warm up the sauce you will be using to dress the pasta. We suggest you pour the contents into a small pot and warm it up on the stove for a few minutes. We typically use one 16oz jar of our pasta sauce per pound of pasta.

Another important phrase to know is “al dente”. This colorful phrase means literally “to the tooth”, or in other words when you taste it to see if it is done you want it to stick to your teeth just ever so slightly.  You never want to throw your spaghetti against the wall to see if it is done. If it sticks to the wall it is over cooked and you’ll end up with a bowl of mush.

Once your pasta is cooked “al dente” you are going to want to save some of the “acqua di cottura” or cooking water. I have found the best way to do this is to grab a coffee mug to remove some of the boiling water to set aside.

Then, I empty the entire pot into a colander in the sink, I shake it up and down a few times and then I return the pasta to the pot.

At this point you are going to pour the sauce you warmed up earlier over the pasta. You want to mix it very well using some of the cooking water you set aside earlier, adding a little at a time. I often return the pot to the same burner I used to cook the pasta (no need to turn it back on unless you are using a gas range, then you could turn it on low but it is really up to you. (Play around with it and see what you like best).

everything is well mixed you can finally dish the pasta into the “scodelle” or soup bowl and you are ready to eat!