May 31, 2020

3 Tips for Better Pasta

How to make my favorite comfort food even more comforting.

We love pasta in our family. It's comfort food at its finest. Growing up, when we went to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we didn’t have turkey or ham. We had pasta. And it was amazing! (Okay, we did at least have pumpkin pie 🥧. We aren’t that un-American 😉.)

So while my wife and I try to eat pretty healthy, pasta is always in the rotation. Through trial and error and learning from cooks smarter than me - like my grandfather - I’ve figured out a few tips for making better pasta.

#1 - Salt your pasta water. And then salt it some more.

When you cook pasta, the water should be as salty as the ocean. And trust me that takes a lot more salt than you think. But it’s a crucial step that ensures your pasta is flavored from the inside out. And just for my health-conscious grandmother reading this (she’s going to live to be 117 I swear), don’t worry so much about your salt intake either. Most of the salt you add will go down the drain with the water.

So how much salt do you add?

Honestly, I can’t tell you for sure because I don’t know how much water you’re cooking it in and what kind of salt you are using. So the best thing to do is to taste your water. Start with about 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water. Then grab a spoon and try it…after it cools down a bit (talking from experience here 🤕).

Does it make you feel like a wave just crashed right into you? Perfect.

#2 Undercook your pasta.

Going to “al dente” may be too far.

You want the outside of your pasta to be soft but the inside to still have a substantial bite to it. Do you taste that thin wire running through your pasta? That’s what we are looking for. I typically start tasting my pasta when it’s about halfway through the recommended cooking time on the package. It’s better to err on the side of undercooked.

Don’t worry you won’t serve it that way.

Instead of in the boiling water, let your pasta finish cooking in your sauce. This creates a beautiful marriage between the pasta and the sauce. No one wants sauce simply slopped on top of your pasta, right?

Just a note: obviously you can't do this for sauces that aren’t hot (like pesto) or that don’t hold up to lots of heat (like cream or cheese sauces). In that case, “al dente” is “perfetto”!

#3 Pasta water is like gold.

So treat it accordingly before sending it all down the drain. Always save about 1-2 cups of the starchy, salty water.

Here are the reasons:

  • First, the starch in your pasta water is the perfect concoction for combining your sauce and pasta together.  
  • Second, it will make your sauce creamy (even if your sauce is just butter and sautéed garlic). It’s full of starch after all.
  • Third, it adds flavor! Which might be counterintuitive since it waters down your sauce. But most of the water will cook off leaving you with starch and salt.

So get out there and make some pasta! Just don't eat the whole 16-oz package in one sitting. Or do, and maybe add a salad on the side 🥗

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Where I learned this: Nanu (my grandfather) and Milk Street's free Perfect Pasta cooking class.