Boy, do I love pasta. I’m capable of eating it every day for the rest of my life. Thank you, Italians, for making my life so much better. Gourmands know how a fantastic meal changes the perspective of life. When you want to see a real passion and greatness, you should watch an Italian chef preparing the signature pasta meal. And when you see that end result…
Oh, my mouth is watering. I bet you’ve had moments like these; you watch the latest episode of your favorite cooking show, or see some amazing recipes on your favorite site, and you start to crave for that deliciousness. Is there a better way of experiencing it than making it at your home? Of course not.
Why wasting any more precious moments when you can start right now? Just throw some pasta into the boiling water, prepare that sauce and ingredients, mix them all together, and you’re ready for the evening full of extravagant taste, luscious sensations, and praising experience of a perfect meal. Life is great when we have fabulous food.
But the reality is, unfortunately, a little different. We prepare pasta for hundreds of years. Occasionally, our pasta meals turn out great. But most of the time, not so much. Everyone who loves a good pasta would agree that a failed attempt at a new gorgeous recipe is something dreadful. What are your worst pasta-making experiences? Sticky, gummy pasta, tasteless, or overcooked? Why do we fail to create a perfectly cooked, flavored and garnished pasta?
What’s there to know and do to make it perfect every single time? We dive into this problem today. Stick around to find out how to make a perfect, delicious pasta every single time. No more failed attempts, no more disappointed guests, no more food in the dumpster. It’s time for you to master the pasta.
Most Common Problems And How To Solve Them
One might wonder: “How is it possible to fail in preparing pasta when it seems so simple and straightforward to create it?”
Well, it does look like that, but the problem isn’t in the concept. Simple on paper doesn’t have to be simple in real life. After some research and careful examination, we got to the core of the problem. Here’s what affects failure in preparing pasta the most:
For a perfectly cooked pasta, you need a lot of boiling water, with a sizable amount of salt, and no oil. People tend to make mistakes in all of these three areas. Let’s break it down:
Not enough water
Either a small pot or a just plain ignorance are the most common reasons for this error. All gourmets around the world would curse your name if they knew that you cook your pasta without much water. Pasta needs space to move in the pot, and it cooks in the boiling water. It needs to absorb the water, and a very high temperature stimulates this effect. More water equals higher temperature, but it takes some patience. That’s one of the first steps in creating a perfect pasta.
Here’s a mistake that people oversee often. Adding salt is imperative, simply because pasta needs it to have a flavor. It’s a common misconception that sauce is the only thing that adds a flavor to the pasta. Next, salt enhances the heat in the water, bringing it to a boil quicker, and reaching higher temperature as well. For a perfectly-cooked pasta, you need one gallon of water and three tablespoons of salt per pound of pasta.
Many people add oils into the water alongside salt, to prevent the pasta from sticking. This is so unnecessary. There are claims that it will make your pasta softer, and help bonding with the sauce. There is some truth in here, but you need it in another place – stick with us to find out where. You don’t need any oil in your pasta while preparing or cooking. Additionally, oil will make it slippery, which will degrade the bonding when adding sauce. Please don’t add the oil into the water.
The Process-Related Mistakes
While the water-related mistakes tend to cover most of the stuff we do wrong, it turns out that we have some errors during the cooking itself.
Some people forget about stirring, and leave the pasta to cook while they chill out, or prepare the sauce. No-No. If you don’t stir your pasta consistently, you’ll get a clumpy, sticky mess. Some of it will be edible, while all other will be stuck together in large lumps. Pasta needs to move in the pot to prevent this problem. Use the pasta utensil; those are perfectly made for this situation. Remember, the first few minutes are crucial in making pasta that won’t stick. Later during the cooking, you don’t have to stir all time – an occasional stir will be enough.
The first mistake to mention here is putting pasta in the water before it boils. Combined with the small-amount-of-water mistake, this one almost guarantees for a sticky pasta that feels like gum. Wait for the full, rapid boil, which won’t get lowered when you add the pasta. This will prevent lumps, as the surface of the pasta contains starch which reacts to boiling water the best. When you add the pasta to the water, starch absorbs a lot of heat, lowering the temperature. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a lot of water and to be patient for the full rolling oil. Also, breaking the pasta won’t make it cook faster or better. Don’t do that, please.
Next, we must speak about the actual timing of the cooking. Pasta needs to spend several minutes in boiling water to be cooked well. There are three variations of cooked pasta that you need to consider:
- Al Dente
The taste of each is different, and it’s required for a different type of meals. Soft and firm are self-explanatory, while al dente (“To the tooth” in Italian) is the stage of cooking when you have the softness of the pasta, but some tasty structure inside as well. To reach this stage, you need to observe the packaging of your pasta, boil it for the 2/3’s of the recommended time, and then turn the heat off and let it stay for the remaining 1/3rd. Add a cup of cold water when the timer ticks zero to prevent further boiling. (Yeah, it’s a very good thing to have a timer.)
Hitting the perfect al dente pasta requires precise timing and immediate action. The best way to know if you’ve hit al dente is to try the pasta yourself. This is one of the first rules of cooking. Try the food you’re preparing.
Draining the pasta
When you’ve reached that perfect texture, drain your pasta from water. People tend to do this while washing the pasta with cold water. A terrible mistake. By doing this, your pasta will lose the warmth and texture a lot and turn gummy and tasteless. Don’t do this. Instead, just drain the pasta from the cooking water, and get ready to mix it with the sauce.
Making sauce is a very important part of pasta. Many problems might occur while making a sauce, and we’re here to demystify them so you can avoid mistakes.
Making a sauce
When making a sauce to match your pasta, you need to have several factors in mind:
- Not every sauce mixes well with every type of pasta
- The process
Since there is a lot of different kinds of pasta, you need to know which sauce goes well with the type you’re preparing. Spaghetti, for example, are going well with meatballs, or with sauces with ground meat inside, like bolognese. Each type of pasta has the perfect sauce, and each type of pasta has the worst sauce to blend with. The experience will guide you through the decision-making process, as you can experiment with the different types of pasta and sauces. Don’t be afraid to fail.
When talking about timing, you need to know that sauce usually takes a bit more time than pasta, so if you’re not a skilled chef, make your sauce first and then start to cook the pasta. This is important especially when you’re preparing thicker, more difficult sauces that require more practice and knowledge. Like Alfredo sauce, for example. Alfredo fettuccine is one of my favorite pasta meals. And to master the Alfredo sauce, you need to know the bits of cooking that you can learn by reading and practicing.
Ingredients are important at both sides of the meal – pasta and sauce. When making a sauce, always go for fresh ingredients that will bond with each other perfectly as well as bond with the pasta itself. Don’t compromise on ingredients – even one bad ingredient can make a mess out of your perfect meal.
The process of making the sauce also needs to be perfect. You have to develop the best way of preparing it, both in effectiveness, timing, and the final outcome. Your sauce has to be perfect in taste, and texture, all according to the recipe you are using. Honestly, this comes with the experience. Your first-time sauce won’t be as perfect as one you see on the TV, and this is a fact. Still, it doesn’t have to frighten you; practice makes perfect, this goes for everything in life.
Mixing the sauce with pasta & serving
This is the phase of the preparation where you need to be careful, quick, and savvy. You have to be prepared and ready; this means having the sauce ready and warm, and al dente pasta ready for drying with a cup of water where pasta was cooked saved. (Yes, this is a pro tip – save one cup of that water)
This process is straightforward, and it goes like this:
1. Drain the pasta from water – (never rinse it)
2. Have the pan with sauce simmering and ready (your pasta shouldn’t wait for sauce to be cooked, it has to be synchronized)
3. Put the pasta into the sauce pan – not the other way around
4. Add a bit of olive oil (or regular oil) and the saved cooking water to the mix
5. Stir the mass to coat the pasta completely (do this for full two minutes on high heat, this will allow the pasta and sauce to bond better)
6. Serve the pasta with tongs and garnish
All of the steps shouldn’t take longer than two minutes each. Remember to have the elements ready before the assembling begins; with everything prepared, you’ll streamline the process which will make no room for error.
Enhancing your pasta
We don’t have the ability to cook like professional chefs. But we all have an opportunity to learn and use the knowledge. Enhancing your meals with simple tricks and practices will bring them (and your cooking) to another level. When you use these tricks, prepare for some loud praises when you serve your pasta to your guests.
- If you want al dente, pull the pasta out of the water before it reaches this state. Your pasta must simmer with sauce on a high heat for two minutes; that’s when you want it to hit al dente level.
- Make your sauce a bit more oily than it should be. Pasta will absorb the oil, and it will add the richness to the taste. To achieve this rich taste, many add butter or olive oil at the end, which is also advisable, but the former way is much more efficient because you’ll simmer only for two minutes; adding cold butter or olive oil won’t enhance the bonding like hot oil already in the sauce.
- Salty water from cooking is good, but just in some sauces. Keeping a cup of cooking water is really important and good advice. But if you’re making salty sauces, you don’t need that water, especially if you use the previous tip.
- If possible, try to get homemade pasta. Bear in mind that this type of pasta cooks for a shorter time than regular one. Still, the difference in taste and quality is enormous.
- Add some spices in the pasta while you cook it. When adding pasta to boiling water, stir in some spices and cook the pasta regularly. It will enhance the taste of the pasta significantly.
- Garnishing adds the final (very significant) touch. A small, yet important touch will make your pasta taste and look amazing. Be sure to add it on top, depending on the recipe.
Having a perfectly made pasta is an out-of-this-world experience.
And with the tips learned from this article, you can make it at your home, every single time. It won’t take you long to start making incredible meals with pasta, and everybody you serve will notice that.
One last advice: Prepare to be called “The Pasta Master.”