June 16, 2003
Boiling pasta is a key cooking techinque.
One pound of pasta typically makes four or more hearty servings, depending on how much sauce you’re using.
Stock pot, or equivalent large pot, with cover
Fill the pot with water.
Use a large pot and a lot of water; one pound of pasta needs at least a gallon of water.
I often use water from the “hot” tap, which will heat a bit faster, but anything potable is fine.
Put pot on stovetop at high heat, with cover on.
The cover makes the water come to a boil much faster, but should be removed while the pasta cooks.
Wait for water to come to a complete boil, then remove the cover.
It may take around 10 minutes or so for the water to reach a boil, depending on your stovetop.
Salt, around 1 or 2 teaspoons
Toss the salt into the pot.
The salt is optional, and simply adds a bit of flavor to the pasta; the amount used is not enough to significantly change the water’s boiling point.
Don’t add the salt before the water boils, as solid grains sitting on the bottom may react with the metal and cause pitting in some pots.
Don’t add oil to the water; the only way to ensure the pasta doesn’t stick together is to use enough water and to stir it properly.
Pasta, dried or fresh, 1 pound
Add the pasta to the pot.
Stir gently for a minute, making sure that all of the pieces are floating around freely and separately.
Place cover back on to bring water back up to a boil.
You may want to leave the cover slightly ajar to help avoid messy boil-overs.
As soon as the water is boiling again, remove the cover.
Watch out; the water can come back to a boil quite quickly, and once it does so, the cover must be removed to prevent the now-startchy water from boiling over.
Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
After a few minutes, begin checking random pieces for readiness; if they’re not done yet, wait another minute and check again.
Use a fork or tongs to remove a piece, confirm that it looks soft, and bite into it. If it’s still hard or crunchy, let it boil for another minute, but don’t wait too long or it will grow mushy. The goal is a delicate middle ground called “al dente”, meaning “firm to the tooth.”
You may also be able to recognize the done-ness of the pasta by watching the pot, as the pasta becomes more colorful and floats to the surface of the water. When cooking dried pasta, you can also cut through a piece and see that the color of the pasta has changed, growing darker, but it should retain a faint white core at the center for firmness.
You can decide how well-done you want your pasta depending on what you’re doing with it; for example if you’re going to bake the pasta afterwards, or meld it with the sauce as described below, you might want to leave it a bit on the firm side.
Colander, or equivalent large strainer
Place colander in sink, then carefully pour pasta into colander and allow water to drain off.
Don’t rinse the pasta, or force it to dry out totally — just rush it along to the sauce, still slightly damp.
Place pasta in serving dish and add sauce.
Variation: Instead of combining pasta with sauce and serving immediately,
return the pasta to the stock pot,
add the sauce, and
cook on low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until pasta and sauce are fully melded.
Cooking up some radiatore.
Toss in the pasta. (More.)