Pasta for Starters. (this post is for beginning cooks. Preferably college aged boys in dorms in Boston but really for anyone who wants to just make a good, basic pasta without using a jar of Spaghetti Sauce).
There are really only two tricks when you’re cooking pasta.
- Make sure the water is at a rolling boil when you put the noodles in and that you stir the pasta pretty consistently through the first few minutes to make sure it doesn’t stick together.
- Cook it for the right length of time. While there are many comical ways to do this, I think the best way is simply to taste it.
Once you’ve made a pot of pasta the next step is to dress it. This can be as simple as dumping in your favorite spaghetti sauce and it can be equally simple to do it yourself.
Here then, is Jim’s fool proof method for simple weeknight pasta (with lots of leftovers).
- One Bag or Box of Pasta of Choice
- 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Plus a drizzle for the pot of water.
- 3 TBS Butter (tablespoons – just look at the markings on the outside of the stick)
- 1/4 Teaspoon Italian Herb Mix
- Salt and Pepper (to taste)
- Parmesan Cheese (for garnish)
Fill a large stockpot to about 3” below the rim and bring it to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling add two to three healthy pinches of salt and a splash of olive oil. While the olive oil may help to keep the pasta from sticking it’s mainly there for flavor, as is the salt. The only way to keep the pasta from sticking to itself is to stir.
Once the water is ready (and boiling furiously away) add the pasta to the water. If you’re working with a string pasta (spaghetti, linguini, cappellini, etc., the noodles may stick out over the water. Not to worry. In a few seconds the bottoms of the noodles will soften enough to let the pasta slide in.
As a rule, I stir the pot while I’m adding the pasta and for another 15 seconds or so after. Then I come back after about a minute and stir it again. I want to see the pasta pieces moving freely and not stuck together. Then you can leave it alone for a few more minutes while it cooks.
Almost any pasta box will have cooking instructions telling you approximately how long to cook the pasta. These are not laws such as gravity, they are rules of thumb. They’ll get you close, but you need to be vigilant starting about 1 minute before and to about one minute after the time on the box. When cooked properly the pasta should be softened, not chewy, but it should still require you to bite down a little to get through it. Al Dente is the term. Literally translated, “to the tooth.” This means that perfect pasta requires a little bit of tooth to eat. It doesn’t turn to mush in your mouth and it doesn’t require a lot of chewing.
Reserve one cup (measuring cup) of the pasta water for use in your sauce and drain the rest of the pasta through a strainer in the sink. Don’t worry about shaking out every last drop of water. Pour the strained pasta back in the pot. (Now – there are pasta purists who will tell you you should rinse it at this point. If you’re making a salad, by all means, rinse away, but if you’re making pasta to eat – like – now, then don’t worry about rinsing it. I don’t rinse it because I don’t want to cool it).
Once you have the pasta done you’re ready to sauce it. Here’s my favorite, very simple sauce.
To the finished pasta add 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 TBS butter, 1/2 teaspoon dried italian herb mix, two healthy pinches of salt and several grinds from your pepper mill. Then pour in about half of the reserved pasta water. Stir to combine. Serve warm with Parmesan Cheese. You’ll never use a bottled sauce again.
It’s hard to believe it could be that simple!
Tomorrow I will post a series of variations on this theme. The point though is that you can make this pasta quickly and easily with just a few things that you have around the kitchen. The leftovers will last at least a week (Under refrigeration) and you can warm them up in the microwave.
Time to get cooking.