How to cook perfect pasta
1. One of the best reasons for eating pasta is that, in 15 minutes from start to finish, you can provide yourself with a complete meal. If you want to enjoy cooking and eating pasta at its best, then my advice is to buy good quality. Yes, it does cost more, but we're not talking about great luxury here; we're talking about a main meal for two people that might cost £2 instead of £1. Poor quality pasta often ends up sticky and soggy. So when you buy your pasta, make sure it says pasta di semola di grano duro – durum wheat semolina pasta.
2. Always use a very large cooking pot, making sure you have at least 4 pints (2.25 litres) of water to every 8 oz (225 g) of pasta, with 1 level tablespoon of salt added. I recommend this quantity of dried pasta for spaghetti or any other shape if being served with just sauce. This will serve two as a main course, or use 4-6 oz (110-175 g) as a starter. Before the pasta goes in make sure the water is up to a good fierce boil. Add the pasta as quickly as possible and stir it around just once to separate it. If you're cooking long pasta like spaghetti, push it against the base of the pan and, as you feel it give, keep pushing until it all collapses down into the water.
3. You don't need to put a lid on the pan: if it's really boiling briskly it will come back to the boil in seconds and, if you put a lid on, it will boil over. Put a timer on and give it 10-12 minutes for top-quality pasta, but because this timing varies according to the shape and quality of the pasta, the only real way to tell is to taste it. So do this after 8 minutes, then 9, and 10, and so on. This only applies when you cook a particular brand for the first time. After that you will always know how long it takes. Sometimes you can give it 1 minute's less boiling and then allow an extra minute's cooking while you combine it with the sauce.
4. Have a colander ready in the sink then, as you are draining the water, swirl it around the colander, which will heat it ready for the hot pasta. Don't drain it too thoroughly: it's good to have a few drops of moisture still clinging as this prevents the pasta from becoming dry. Place the colander containing the pasta back over the saucepan to catch any drips.
5. Always serve the pasta on deep warmed plates to keep it as hot as possible as it goes to the table. For spaghetti, the very best way to serve it is to use pasta tongs, and always lift it high to quickly separate each portion from the rest. Presto pronto! – in Italian this means soon and quickly. Always work quickly, as pasta won't hang around – if it cools it goes sticky and gluey, so drain it quickly, serve it quickly and eat it quickly. If the pasta is going to be cooked again, in a baked dish like macaroni cheese, for example, give it half the usual cooking time to allow for the time in the oven.
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