We’ve all made a pot of pasta or two in our lifetimes.
But, if you’ve ever had a batch turn out wrong, you know it can ruin the entire dinner.
Well, after today, that never has to happen again.
But first, let me tell you a story (it’s short, promise)…
Once upon a time my husband and I were young(ish) and newly married. He was pretty insistent that we do some traveling before any precious children came along. How could a girl resist? So off we went to hither and yon, with several stops in Italy along the way.
We hit most of the major historical sites in the southern part of the country and enjoyed our fair share of gelato, cappuccino, pizza, and – you guessed it – pasta! We left with Italy in our hearts and prayed God would let us return some day.
If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know that authentic Italian pasta is simple – spaghetti and linguini are most common in the south, always cooked al dente, and rarely served with elaborate sauces. The texture and taste of the pasta noodles actually add to the flavor of the dish rather than simply acting as a starchy bed for a bunch of sauce to lie on, as pasta is so often viewed here in the States.
Pasta isn’t on the regular rotation at our house but, when we have it, we like for it to taste like the real deal. Today I’m sharing my top 5 tips for perfect pasta so you can enjoy the authentic taste of Italy at home too!
How to Cook Perfect Pasta (5 Easy Steps):
1. Buy good pasta
If you’ve never tasted real Italian pasta, you really should try it at least once.
I’ve had a hard time finding a domestic product that compares to the classic al dente texture of pasta in Italy.
Even if you can’t travel to Italy to order a bowl of authentic spaghetti and meatballs, imported pastas are becoming easier to find in stores and online. My local stores carry several different brands, as does Amazon.
Online prices tend to be a bit higher, but a 16oz bag of spaghetti made by La Molisana (the 100+ year old Italian brand that we’ve fallen in love with) was only $2.29 at my neighborhood grocery store.
Plus, use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including GM grains, is far less prevalent in Italy than here in the States. Less hybridization means the grain is closer to its originally created form, often containing significantly more protein, less gluten, and fewer pesticides than more heavily hybridized grains.
Did you know many travelers who are sensitive to gluten* find that they can eat pasta, bread, and other gluten containing products in Italy with no trouble?
* This does not apply to those with celiac disease
2. Cook just until al dente
Al dente literally means, “to the tooth,” and describes food that is cooked only until it offers a slight resistance when bitten, but is not too soft or overdone.
Add the dried pasta to salted water at a rolling boil as you normally would. Keep a close eye on the texture as it cooks, removing a noodle to taste when you think it’s getting close. As soon as the al dente texture is achieved, remove the pot from the burner and drain most of the water (details in step 3).
For many Americans, al dente pasta might take some getting used to. But, once you adjust to the slightly chewy texture, it’s hard to go back. It also holds up much better to reheating when leftover, which is a very valuable feature for this leftover-loving mama.
3. Drain almost all the water
We all know a pot of pasta is a “thirsty” creature, so leaving a bit of water in the pot will give the noodles something to absorb to prevent them from drying out. When you’ve drained most of the water, give it all a gentle stir with a wooden spoon and proceed to step 4.
4. Bring on the olive oil
Drizzle a generous amount of good quality extra virgin olive oil into the pot while using your wooden spoon to gently fold the pasta so all is evenly coated. How much olive oil? I don’t know – I never measure. You’ll know it’s enough when the color of the pasta just begins to take on a yellowish-greenish hue and has just a hint of the oil’s flavor when you bite into it.
5. Salt it
The best approach to salting pasta is the same as salting mashed potatoes – add what you think you need, then add some more. It’s not very precise, but it works perfectly! I recommend using celtic sea salt, which has more minerals (and flavor) than table salt.
What are your tips for cooking perfect pasta? Leave a comment below and let’s exchange ideas!
Note: This post contains affiliate links. By making purchases through these links, you’ll send a little money my way to recreate more authentic Italian recipes – Thanks!