Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pasta Cooking Details

Harold McGee wrote a good article on cooking pasta with different amounts of water in today's New York Times.

It reminded me of a few details I've learned about cooking pasta over the years. Each one is a small thing but, added up, I think they make a big difference in the way it tastes.

Salt. I salt the water pretty heavily as soon as I put the water on. "Salty like the sea," says Signora Passalacqua, the mother of my Sicilian friend Gioacchino. (He's the export help we use for many foods we carry, like the Sicilian sun dried tomatoes, which as it turns out, go great in pasta.) Salty water gives the pasta a base of flavor you just can't get salting afterwards. I use the French grey sea salt. Dollar per pound, it's still the best sea salt I've ever tasted.

Stir soon. As soon as I add the pasta to the water I stir. This is the best way I've found to keep it from clumping and sticking.

Stop short. I cut the cooking short of done, when it's still very al dente, i.e. it has a bit of snap to it.

There and back again. I drain the water, shake the pasta once or twice then quickly return it to a warm pot, mixing it with the sauce. The extra bit of cooking with the sauce softens it further and, instead of absorbing water, the pasta absorbs sauce, making it even more flavorful.

Warm bowls. I drain the hot pasta water into the bowls and toss it out just before serving.

I don't add oil to the water, run water on it after it's cooked or throw a piece against the wall,to see if it's done, which are weird tricks I've tried once or twice in my day. In my experience, most of those things don't do much to help the cooking. Some even hurt.

One of my favorite pasta dishes for two is half a bag of Rustichella's fettucine with half a jar of Il Mongetto's plain tomato sauce mixed with a full tin of good tuna in olive oil, (Ortiz is a treat). I eat it almost every week!

What do you like?


Raquel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. said...

Great post. You should wait until the water is boiling before adding the salt, though. Not only can it pit your stainless pots sitting on the bottom, but it will actually take longer to boil. Salt helps keep temp constant, so if the water is cold when you put it in, it will keep it colder; that's why you add salt to ice when making ice cream. On the other hand, (or in the other pot?) if you add the salt after the water is boiling, it helps keep the temp up after you put in your pasta.

Gray salt is my favorite everyday salt as well...and when you sell it at a fair price like we and you do, even better. It is one of our best sellers.