Food 101- Pasta
Food 101 is a series for my generally smart and curious friends who just never got around to learning how to cook for themselves. Enjoy!
We’re going to start easy. Real easy. Pasta.
The short version is this: Put a very big pot of water on to boil. Add some salt. It will not make it go faster, but it should make it tastier (source: among other places, What Einstein Told His Cook). Wait until boiling. Dump the pasta into the pot, stir a couple times in the first couple minutes. While you may save some time by covering the pot while the water heats, once you add the pasta, take the cover off. It will help you make sure it doesn’t boil over. Cook for roughly the time on the package. When you think it’s about ready, get one out and taste it. Now, if you want to be technically correct, you’re going for al dente, which translates as “to the tooth” because it’s supposed to have some chew to it. But if you like it softer, by all means, cook longer. If you’re going to go for a higher skill level, like fresh pasta or ravioli, again, follow given instructions. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly. Ravioli are often done shortly after they’re floating on top of the water (much like how you discovered that your pet goldfish was done).
When it’s done, the easiest way to separate water from pasta is some sort of colander or strainer. If you don’t have one, you can try fishing it out with a spider strainer, slotted spoon, tongs… You can try pouring the water out very very slowly… You risk steam burns whichever way you try it usually, so just be very careful.
We’ll get to sauce later (as in, the very next Food 101), but honestly, if you’re busy and not good at this yet, there are bottles of pre-made sauce that are tasty and don’t cost much. I tend to enjoy sauce from Trader Joe’s. Just microwave it until warm.
The goal for most of you is to feed yourselves faster, cheaper, yummier, and healthier than you would be otherwise if you weren’t cooking. Some of the time that WILL mean that I will advocate making some things and buying some things. But cooking pasta? You can totally do that!
For more information, I suggest Good Eats, Season 1, Episode 11, Pantry Raid- Use Your Noodle There’s a link to the transcript, which also usually has a youtube video embedded, but if it’s not working, search youtube for the name of the episode. Alton Brown also discusses whether to put oil in the pasta water in this episode, the answer is “no”. Note– You do not need to be as hardcore as Alton Brown. He’ll suggest things like buying a MASSIVE pot to cook pasta in, and storing pasta in something other than the container it comes in. These are not strictly necessary.
Extra Credit: Harold McGee (author of several food science tomes) posted in the New York Times about how you don’t technically need a lot of water to cook pasta. There’s a more detailed examination at Serious Eats. This is not the easy way, but if you really want pasta and don’t have a large pot, this might work for you. It also gives you some hope that it all works out in the end if the water is too cold or there isn’t enough of it.
Leave any questions in the comments!
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