Pasta is probably the most well-known element of Italian cuisine. Living abroad I have noticed that the process of cooking pasta (which, as an Italian, I take for granted), is often misunderstood, and, therefore, the results are not always satisfactory. For this reason I have decided to share some tips on how pasta should be cooked properly in order to get the right al dente texture.
First, you don’t need to add oil to your water, pasta will not get sticky unless you leave it unattended after cooking and draining it, but that is something you shouldn’t do anyway. The amount of water needs to be rather big compared to the amount of pasta.
I will give more precise quantities but the principle is that, when you put something in boiling water, the temperature will plunge and the water will stop boiling. If the mass of the water is large enough, the temperature will not drop too dramatically and the water will start boiling again quickly, which is what is needed to reach the aforementioned al dente result.
Don’t forget to put salt in your water. Some people might argue that you can add it afterwards but it won’t be the same.
Regarding the exact quantities, I have a good eye for it and I get it right without having to measure every time.
However, if you want to be a bit more scientific, a good rule (the source is Heston Blumenthal here) is 10, 100, 1000: for 100 grams of dried pasta, which is a good/large portion, use 10 grams of salt and 1000 ml (1 litre) of water. It might sound like a lot of salt, but if you consider the actual solution, it’s just 1%, (as it will be diluted in the water), and if you want to visualise it 10 g of salt is about 1 and ½ tsp. Also, give your pasta a good stir every now and then to prevent it from attaching to the bottom of the pan.
Regarding cooking times, it is normally indicated on the pack. Just remember that the time is a rough guideline, so you should try it shortly before the stated time and drain it when it’s ready according to your taste. Also, start counting from the moment the water starts boiling again after putting the pasta in it.
Another technique, used in restaurants, is to preserve some of the cooking water, drain the pasta a couple of minutes before it’s ready, and finishing it off in the pan with the sauce; some cooking water is needed to avoid the pasta becoming too dry.
I cannot give exact quantities here because there are some variables: how liquid is the sauce you are using and how long you want the pasta to cook with the sauce; therefore, I suggest that you keep more cooking water than you think it will be necessary and then add it little by little till your pasta is ready