19 Tips for Perfect Pasta
Pasta Cheats as spotted on Food Network and some great Blogs. I have used a lot of these tips and some are new. Let me know what works for you. Pasta, in particular Lasagna, is one of my signature ingredients. Believe it or not it is even more popular in my family than Cheesecake!
Here are some tips for making that perfect pasta for any recipe. I know some people out there are all about cutting out the carbs but seriously, pasta? It fills your belly with that warm feeling you expect from any comfort food and is also perfect for when you’re in a hurry after a long and crazy day. These tips and tricks will help you make a good recipe even better!
Salt that boiling water:
If you don’t salt the water you’re cooking the pasta in, the end product will undeniably taste of nothing. For pasta that tastes delicious, you need to make sure the cooking water tastes like the sea. It is important to salt the water before it actually comes to a boil because it will take longer to reach boiling point. The most important thing is to add enough, don’t be shy. Your pasta is counting on you.
Don’t bother adding oil to the cooking water:
You’re far from alone if you’ve always thought oil stops your pasta sticking together. Think about it; what happens when oil and water mix? They separate. Even if the water is boiling intensely, the oil will only float on top, which isn’t so great for the pasta down below. The best way to prevent the pasta sticking is to give it a good few stirs in the first few minutes of the cooking process, and every so often after that until it’s cooked.
Keep some cooking water back:
The starchy cooking liquid is one of the bonus treasures you get from boiling pasta. It’s perfect for thinning down your sauce without making it too watery. Also, if it’s adequately salted, it won’t alter the taste of your dish so much!
One pot pasta is perfect when you’re in a rush:
All you need to do is grab a pot and fill it with everything you’d normally add to your pasta dish, including veggies, cooked meat, seasoning, tomatoes, garlic, water and the uncooked pasta itself. Bring it to a boil and simmer until it all magically comes together.
If you’re making a pasta bake, undercook the pasta:
Cooking your pasta to the halfway mark is a must if you want the pasta to be al-dente and the sauce a perfect consistency. A general rule of thumb is that if the pasta will be in the oven for 30 minutes or more, you’ll definitely need to half cook it. It’ll finish off bubbling away in the sauce, leaving a rich, creamy consistency to your dish. Let a pasta bake stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving. Not only will it be like lava, but the standing time will also allow the pasta and sauce to marry, thicken and absorb nicely.
Don’t rinse pasta:
When you boil pasta, it gets a nice starchy lining that’s perfect for holding a slick of sauce. Rinsing it washes that lining away and gives the sauce a surface that is harder to cling on to. Having said this, if you’re making a cold pasta dish like pasta salad, you should definitely give it a quick rinse under cold running water. Letting it dry naturally will almost certainly encourage it to stick together, even if you do coat it with olive oil.
You don’t need to pre-boil lasagne sheets:
Most dry lasagne sheets you buy in the supermarket don’t need to be pre-boiled. Simply make sure your sauces are a little bit (not too much) on the runnier side and layer it up as normal. Bake it straight away. Contrary to popular belief, layering up a lasagne the night before will give your pasta time to soak up all of the sauce, resulting in a soggy lasagne that’s somehow devoid of any sauce.
Restaurant secret for making pasta ahead of time:
Cook your pasta until it’s just al dente, drain, rinse under cool running water and coat with olive oil. Cover and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use. Right before serving, just drop the pasta into a big pot of boiling water for a minute or two to heat through. Usually, rinsing your pasta is a big no-no but in this case, it removes some of the excess starch to prevent the pre-cooked pasta from sticking together.
Pre-soak pasta ahead of time and it will cook in 60 seconds flat:
Okay, so this one is slightly unconventional but it works. If you’re a non-traditionalist and you want to try it, soak the pasta in cold water for 2-3 hours (or overnight), rinse, then drop into boiling salted water. You won’t believe how quickly it cooks.
Boil it in a frying pan:
Forget all that stuff about boiling pasta in a giant pan to avoid it sticking together. Giant pans of water take lots of time and energy to heat up. Try using a smaller saucepan and stirring more often to get it cooked in half the time. Pre-boiling the kettle and heating up the pan is always a good idea too.
Fill a mug with a handful of dried macaroni, shredded cooked chicken and Italian herbs. Microwave on high, add a little bit of cheese and melt. Hot, creamy, one-mug pasta that’s perfect as a midnight snack.
Throw it into a rice cooker:
The secret ingredient to stop your cheese sauce curdling is evaporated milk. It makes this rice cooker mac and cheese the most foolproof method of cooking dinner. Less mess means more time for wine.
Less is more:
Don’t overdo the pasta with a bucket load of sauce. There should be just enough sauce to lightly coat the pasta, without drowning it completely.
Add pasta to sauce, then bring to the boil, stirring to coat:
Picture your typical plate of spaghetti and meatballs or spaghetti Bolognese… the naked spaghetti is on the plate, covered in a mountain of meat and sauce, right? WRONG. Always remember that the pasta should be added to the sauce, not the other way round. The ideal way to combine the two is to toss the drained pasta into a pan of sauce, turn the heat up and combine to coat the pasta. Bring to a boil, adding any additional pasta cooking water to thin it out, if necessary.
Finish with cold butter:
To give your pasta a silky, restaurant-style glaze, add cubes of cold butter right at the end of the cooking process while your pasta comes together with the sauce. Drop the butter in and keep stirring to emulsify into the sauce and coat all the pasta. Serve immediately and the pasta will have the most wonderful sheen.
Choose the correct pasta shape for your sauce:
Long and skinny (spaghetti, linguine):
Light tomato or cream sauces, olive oil or butter
Long ribbons (fettucine, tagliatelle):
Bolognese or cream sauce
Twists (fusilli, cavatappi):
Light, smooth sauces like pesto
Shells (conchiglie, lumaconi):
Meat or heavy cream sauces
Tubes (penne, rigatoni, macaroni):
Rich, meat sauces like ragu or Bolognese.
Small shapes (orzo, orecchiette):
Stews, pasta salads, soups
Filled pasta (ravioli, tortellini):
Light butter, cream or oil-based sauces
Now that you are in the mood for pasta check out this recipe for 4 Cheese Stuffed Shells
Most images in my Tip Friday Series use free stock photos.
This article is part of the Tips That Help in the Kitchen Series, Tip Friday.