Tips for Cooking Pasta
This month we are featuring Marcella Hazan and The Classic Italian Cookbook. So much of the food will seem familiar, be it from your own kitchen, or what you’ve experienced at your local Italian restaurant. The book itself is simple in its structure and explanation which makes it great for first time cooks through to someone looking to refine their cooking skills. I love the little stories that accompany the recipes, locating them in geography and culture within Italy as they go. The recipes are not stacked with massive lists of ingredients and focus on the freshness and flavour of the key components which definitely appeals to me as a cook and an eater alike.
As I’ve been browsing through this book I’ve stumbled upon some gems that I thought was worth sharing with us all. First up is Hazan’s tips on cooking pasta. Pasta cooking is something that everyone I know has their own way of cooking, the amount of salt, the size of the pot, to add or not add oil….it can be quite a personal experience. This method though is the authentic Italian method that might be worth trying if you struggle a little with cooking your pasta.
- The Pot – make sure it is big enough to fit the pasta once it has swelled in size (for dried pasta) and have room to move around a little so it doesn’t stick. Hazan recommends something lightweight so its easy to handle when you are taking it to the sink full of hot water and pasta.
- The Colander – have one that is big enough to contain the amount of pasta you are cooking and have it ready in the sink to go when you start cooking the pasta. Drain the pasta immediately when it is ready and shake off any excess water immediately to stop the cooking process.
- The Water – ” Pasta needs lots of water to move around in, or it becomes gummy”. Hazan suggests heating a minimum of 3L for even the smallest amount of pasta, and recommends the proportion of 4L to every 450g of pasta.
- The Salt – Add the salt when the water comes to the boil. Hazan recommends a ratio of 1 1/2 tbl sp to every 450g, and even more if the sauce you are making is mild and under salted.
- The Oil Question – never put oil into the water unless you are cooking stuffed homemade pasta. In the latter case 1tbl sp is enough to reduce the friction of the pasta.
- The Pasta – how much is enough? Even Hazan is a bit vague on this question but suggests that 450g of dried pasta will serve between 4-6 people depending on the sauce and what else is being served with the meal.
- Cooking The Pasta – only add the pasta to the water when it is boiling and the salt has been added. Cover the top to get it back to the boil as quickly as possible, watching it so that it doesn’t boil over. Once boiling again use a long handled wooden spoon to stir the pasta to prevent it sticking to each other or the pan. If you are using homemade or fresh pasta, Hazan suggests using a tea towel to gather the pasta together and make it easier to place all the pasta in the pot at the same time.
- When Will the Pasta be Ready? When it is Al Dente. What does this mean? Al Dente means that the pasta is firm to the bite but not crunchy.
- The Sauce – make sure your sauce is ready to go when the pasta has finished cooking. You want to be able to stir though the pasta and sauce together until the sauce coasts each strand completely. Do this with either a fork and spoon or some tongs depending on the shape of your pasta. Serve immediately to maintain the flavour and texture balance of the dish.
Happy Cooking and Happy Eating,
* information sourced from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
* photographs sourced from: