Photo Credit: Ursula Alter/Photodisc/Getty Images
It may sound silly, but boiling pasta can be a tricky endeavor. With so many different shapes, brands, and types, you can’t treat every box the same way. To make sure you don’t lose your noodle over a handful of farfalle or rigatoni, follow these simple steps.
1. Before you boil pasta, select a large pot
One of the biggest mistakes people make when preparing to boil pasta is choosing a pot that’s too small. Overcrowding can increase cooking times and cause pasta to stick together. So pick a large pot. And as a rule of thumb, use at least six quarts of water for every pound of pasta.
2. Before you boil pasta, season the water
Bring the water to a rolling boil and season with salt. This is the only chance you’ll get to season the pasta during cooking so be generous with the salt – the water should taste like the sea.
3. When the water is boiling, place the pasta in the pot
Gently place your pasta in the pot of boiling water and stir. If you are making long pasta (like spaghetti), add in batches and push down as it softens to avoid breaking the long strands. Stir occasionally during the cooking process to prevent pieces from sticking together. No need to cover.
4. Check cooking times
It’s very important to check the box for cooking times when you boil pasta. Depending on the shape, manufacturer, or type (e.g. whole wheat), the cooking times can vary. Suggested times aren’t exact, though, so it’s best to test the pasta yourself for doneness.
5. Pasta al dente
From Italian, al dente, or “to the tooth,” refers to pasta that is tender, but has some resistance when chewed. To get al dente pasta, start checking it around the end of the cooking time by biting into a piece. If it’s chewy and firm, take it off the heat and drain in a colander. Do not rinse. Cook longer if you like a softer pasta.
6. Buon appetito!
Now that your pasta is done, be sure to coat it in sauce right away. This ensures that the pasta will absorb the flavors of the sauce.
7. Branch out
Once you’ve mastered old-fashioned spaghetti, you’re ready to try something more exotic. Just remember to always check the directions on the box or package, and watch your pasta closely during cooking.
- Whole wheat: Made from the whole grain, this pasta has a different flavor and texture, and typically takes longer to cook. Allow more time to prepare, but be careful to not overcook. It can disintegrate if cooked too long.
- Gluten-free: Typically made from gluten-free grains like corn, rice, or soy, cook for about 10 minutes (cooking times can vary so check package directions). Stir frequently to prevent sticking and check the pasta for doneness at the end of cooking. The pasta should not be mushy and should be the same color all the way through. If not, cook for another minute or two. Avoid overcooking. It can be less forgiving than other types of pasta.
- Fresh: Fresh pasta is more tender than dried and cooks very quickly, often in a few minutes. It’s done when it begins to float.