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Perfecting Pasta: The Truth About Noodles

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Tricks of the Trade: Perfecting Pasta

Know how to boil water? Then you’ve probably cooked a noodle or two in your day. While it’s simple to make an edible pasta, there’s more of an art to cultivating a soft but toothsome “al dente” noodle as the perfect host for your sauce of choice. The secrets to perfect pasta cookery range from choosing the best product to preparing it with precision.

Choosing the right noodle gets you halfway to your perfect dish. Macaroni or orecchiette? Fresh or dried? The options seem endless in an aisle once monopolized by long, thin boxes of good ol’ spaghetti.

  • Dried and fresh pastas can be equally delicious as long as they still carry a golden sheen without any blotched or dulled spots, indicating over-the-hill noodles. In a rush, fresh pasta cooks faster, but some prefer the firmness of dried over the softer, less forgiving fresh.
  • Remember to pick a pasta that will hold onto its companion sauce. Rigatonis and other hollow shapes are best for thick sauces as they naturally fill with chunks of meat and veggies. Cream and broth sauces fare well smothering linguini or fettuccini as they cling to the long surface areas.

The best pasta is cooked right before it’s served, with sauce heated and hungry diners waiting at the table.

  • Start by stirring noodles into a large pot of well-salted boiling water. (A rule of thumb suggests using 5-6 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of salt for every pound of pasta.)
  • To insure that the pasta starches solidify immediately (instead of sloughing off into the water), cover the pot after the pasta has been added and allow the water to come back to a boil. At this point, the lid can be fully or partially removed as the pasta cooks to your desired doneness. Timing on this varies with pasta choice, so it’s best to start checking for firmness – trial by tasting – a few minutes before the suggested cooking time on the box. When tender, not mushy, your pasta is ready to be drained from its cooking water.
  • Immediately, toss cooked pasta in a large sauté pan with well-heated sauce.

Cooked without oil and never rinsed, your pasta will absorb all of your favorite flavors acting as an ideal host, supporting the starring sauce without actually stealing the show.