Perfect Pasta, Every Time
Guest contributor Gabriele Corcos and his wife Debi Mazar star in Extra Virgin, Wednesday nights at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT.
As I said before, pasta is everything for Italians. But getting perfect pasta doesn't have to be complicated. It's a simple task that I would like to demystify. Here are my tips for getting it right every time:
Always salt your boiling water—always! I use two palmfuls of coarse salt as a first step in seasoning my dish. Start practicing with your own quantity, and do not be afraid—the pasta can be rinsed in the colander it it's too salty, or you can add more at the very end if it's needed.
The only way to keep your pasta from sticking in the pot is by stirring—adding olive oil to the water won't do it. Just use a wooden spoon and stir the pasta around every so often. A common mistake I have seen people make is to toss a full box of pasta into boiling water and not stir. That is probably the first crucial moment; move the pasta around, make sure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan, or worse, become a one big pasta-ball!
Cooking time is probably the most important step of ensuring the delivery to your dining table of the perfect al dente pasta. Here is all you need to know:
Always set your timer a couple of minutes before the time suggested on the package, because once it's overcooked, you can't go back. While it's cooking, prepare your pasta sauce in a large pan, and toss the cooked pasta directly into the sauce for a final sauté. The pasta will be perfectly cooked. There are couple of exceptions, like fresh pesto or carbonara that do not require sautéing, but rather are assembled inside a big serving bowl. But otherwise it's the best technique. Here's a recipe for Spaghetti alla Puttanesca you will love.
Fresh pasta does not cook al dente, unless it has been sitting to dry for a few hours. If you buy fresh pappardelle for a wild boar sauce, do not expect it to cook like the dry pasta in the box you find at the store. It cooks very quickly. Filled pasta should always be cooked according to the directions given by your local vendor or on the package.
Never, ever, ever let the pasta sit in the colander for more than a few seconds after draining it. It will begin to stick. Get it into the sauce immediately! Otherwise you kill all the work you've done up to this moment.
One more thing: Throwing your spaghetti against the kitchen wall is not a good indicator of their cooking status.
Cooking pasta is absolutely one of the easiest things you can master in the kitchen, as long as you stay confident, are not in a rush, and don't get distracted when the bell rings.
Watch Gabriele and his wife Debi Mazar cook meals from their home Wednesdays at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT on Cooking Channel.
Traditionally, the main meal in Italy is a lengthy affair, composed of a number of small courses. Dishes typically are relatively simple, with seasonal and fresh ingredients.