The two main kinds of pasta are pasta secca and pasta fresco. Pasta secca describes pasta made from semolina flour,
salt, and water, which is sold dried and rarely made at home. Pasta fresco or pasta fatta in casa means fresh, homemade
pasta with a dough consisting of wheat flour, eggs, and a little water. The fresh pasta category also includes a number of
pastas made without eggs. Since dried pasta and fresh pasta require different cooking times, it is important to know the
difference. Undercooked pasta is chewy and tastes raw. Overcooked pasta has a mushy texture.
Cooking Dried Pasta
1. Use a large 6-quart saucepan or stockpot for 1 pound of pasta, so that the
pasta can move freely in the boiling water. 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 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt to the pot. This may seem like a lot, but it is
difficult to salt pasta properly after it is cooked.
3. If you are cooking short shaped pasta, such as penne, tortellini, or shells,
add it all at once and stir it immediately. Bring the water back to the boil and
start your timing. If you are cooking long strands of pasta, such as spaghetti,
linguine, or lasagna, take a handful of pasta and dip one end in the water.
As the pasta softens, coil it until submerged, then start your timing.
Cook,uncovered, at a rolling boil,until the pasta is al dente, which means "firm
to the bite." Stir the pasta occasionally to prevent sticking.
4. Just before the end of the recommended cooking time, lift a piece of the
pasta out of the water with a fork and test it by biting into it. Be careful, it's
hot! The pasta should feel tender with a little resistance to the bite. The
firmness of dried pasta is different from that of fresh pasta but neither should be
allowed to become too soft or it will loose its ability to carry the flavor of the
sauce that will be added. If the pasta is done, take it off the heat immediately.
If not, continue cooking and test it again in another minute. At this point, you
may wish to reserve about a cup of the pasta water to use later if your pasta
sauce seems too thick or dry.
5. Have a large colander ready in the sink to drain the pasta. Give the colander
a few vigorous shakes to remove all of the water. Do not rinse the pasta with
water unless you are using it in a chilled pasta salad. Turn the drained pasta
into a serving dish and toss with a sauce. The sauce should be evenly
distributed with the pasta. However great a sauce may be, it cannot sit on top
of the pasta or at the bottom of the dish. Add a little of the cooking water if
needed and toss again. If it is necessary for the pasta to sit for a short time
before serving, return it to the saucepan and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil or
butter to it, toss, and cover to keep warm. Add your sauce to the pasta just
Cooking Fresh Pasta
Fresh pasta should be eaten the same day that it is made or frozen for
later use. Follow the same cooking method as outlined above for dried
pasta, simply reduce the cooking time. Take a strand out on a wooden fork
and bite it to make sure it is done to your taste. It should be 'resistent' but
Average cooking times are:
* Fresh Pasta (1-3 minutes)
* Fresh stuffed pasta (3-7 minutes)
* Dried long strands (8-15 minutes)
* Dried short shapes (10-12 minutes)
Tips for Cooking Pasta
1. Do not add oil to the cooking water; it will not prevent it from sticking.
The best way to prevent pasta from sticking is to use a large amount of water,
stir it often, and sauce the pasta immediately after it is drained. The longer
the pasta stands without the sauce, the more likely that it will stick together.
2. Do not rinse cooked pasta, except when making cold pasta salads. The
water cools the pasta and removes the surface starch which will prevent the
sauce from adhering to it.
3. Pasta is best served in a warm bowl. You may wish to place a bowl in the
oven on low heat before serving. Another method is to place the serving bowl
under the colander when draining the pasta. The heat from the
cooking water will warm the bowl.
4. Many pastas are finished in the skillet in which the sauce is cooked. Use a
large 10 to 12-inch skillet for this purpose. After the pasta is drained and
added to the skillet, it needs a large surface area in which to combine
it with the sauce. The two are tossed together so that the pasta can absorb
the flavor of the sauce. A little of the pasta water may be added to thin the
sauce if necessary.
5. Many cooks like to drizzle a finished pasta with a little extra-virgin olive oil
just before serving. It adds smoothness and extra flavor.