HOW TO COOK DRIED PASTA
1 Use a large pot with a 6-quart capacity for 1 pound of pasta. Fill with at least 4 quarts of cold water and cover. Over high heat, bring the water to a rolling boil. If you are cooking more than 1 pound of pasta, use two pots instead of one large one.
2 Add at least 2 tablespoons of salt to the pot. This may seem like a lot, but most of it gets drained off with the water when the pasta is done. It is difficult to salt pasta properly after it is cooked.
3 Add the pasta all at once. Stir it immediately. Stir often until the water comes back to a boil. Long, thin pasta may not fit completely under the water level. Gently push it down until it becomes pliable enough to be completely immersed.
4 Do not cover the pot, or the water will boil over when it returns to the boiling point. To speed things up, you can partially cover until the water is again boiling. Watch the pot carefully. Continue to stir the pasta occasionally as it cooks.
5 Have ready a large colander or mesh strainer. Place a heatproof serving bowl in the sink. Place the colander in the bowl.
6 Cooking time varies with the type of pasta. Ideally, the pasta should cook until it is tender, but still keeps its shape firmly. The best way to judge is by tasting a piece. The cooking times on the package are just guidelines. When you bite the pasta, the pieces should be cooked through and not chalky white in the center. The pasta should be firm, not mushy, perhaps a little firmer than you want it, as the residual heat will continue to soften the pasta before it is served. The Italians call this al dente, meaning to the tooth.
7 When the pasta is done, scoop out a little of the water with a cup and set it aside to thin the sauce if needed. Bring the pot to the sink and pour it into the colander. Lift the colander and allow the water to drain off into the serving bowl. (This also heats the bowl.) Set aside the colander with the pasta. If you forgot to save some of the cooking water, you have another opportunity to do so here. Set it aside. Carefully tip the bowl to remove the remaining cooking water.
8 Add the pasta and sauce to the warmed bowl and toss well. Add a little of the cooking water if it is needed and toss again. Serve immediately.
DRIED PASTA TIPS
* Do not add oil to the water. It will not help to prevent it from sticking. The only way to prevent the pasta from sticking is to use a large amount of water, stir it frequently, and sauce the pasta immediately after it is drained.
* Do not rinse cooked pasta. This cools it and removes the surface starch, and as a result sauces will not adhere.
* Heat a serving bowl as described above, or place a bowl in the oven on low to heat. Some cooks place the serving bowl over the pasta pot, but this is tricky, as the pot can boil over.
* Heat the serving dishes.
* Immediately toss the pasta and sauce together. The longer the pasta stands without the sauce, the more likely that it will stick together.
* Many pastas are finished in the skillet in which the sauce is cooked, so be sure to have a 10- to 12-inch skillet for this purpose. After the pasta is drained, it is added to the skillet where the sauce is ready and waiting. The two are then tossed together for a minute or so, so that the pasta can absorb the flavor of the sauce. A little of the pasta water can help to liquify dry sauces.
* Many Italian cooks like to drizzle a finished pasta made with an oil-based sauce with a stream of extra-virgin olive oil just before serving. It adds smoothness and good flavor.
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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