Pasta, which has been a staple for so long in the Italian kitchen, has graduated to gourmet level around the world in recent years. One can find hundreds of shapes of dried pasta as well as varieties of fresh pasta offered in specialty shops and grand grocery stores. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years about cooking pasta:

* To cook pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. I try to use at least a gallon for every pound of pasta and about 2-3 tablespoons of salt. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta.

* Italians do not add oil to the cooking water as it tends to coat the pasta so that the sauce does not adhere (so my Italian language school teacher told me!).

* How can you tell when it’s done? I find that the lower cooking time listed on the box is pretty close to how we like it. Unless I’m familiar with the brand I’m cooking, I begin taste-testing it a minute or two before that. It should be firm but tender. The Italians use the expression “al dente”, literally “to the tooth”, meaning pleasurable to the tooth – not mushy but not too hard. Fresh pasta takes only a couple of minutes to cook.

* An Italian cook NEVER, EVER puts the pasta in the boiling water before their guests arrive. Actually, pasta cooks so quickly that it’s not generally a complication to wait, and piping hot pasta (that’s not mushy) is worth any wait!

* One of the most important things I’ve learned about cooking pasta is how to keep it from sticking together when you serve it. As soon as it’s drained, throw it back in the empty, hot pot, add some sauce, and toss it around before putting it in a serving bowl.

* Warming the serving bowl will enable your dist to taste the very best. Either fill it with boiling water or place it in a warm oven while the pasta is cooking.

* How much pasta should you cook? I learned from the Italians to allow about 4 oz/100 g per person for a first course, or main dish. I cook about half that amount if I’m serving it as a side dish.


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