For many people, pasta is one of the first things they cook in their culinary journey – whether that’s in a Home Economics lesson at primary school (although many schools have now scrapped this), under the instruction of a parent or through trial and error at University.
For something so simple, you’d be surprised how many of us get it so wrong. Largely due to bad habits passed down from generation to generation, whilst the results may seem edible, not every one is aware that when cooked improperly, pasta can be a calorific disaster and quite unhealthy.
With that in mind, here are top five tips to ensure the pasta you eat is cooked to chef standard.
I don’t care what pasta cooking methods have been passed down to you from your mother, oil has no place in that pasta pot. None! If you’ve been told it’s necessary to stop the pasta from sticking to the sides of the pan; then I have a great tip for you – simply make sure you have plenty of extra water in the pan, that’s all you need.
The only thing oil serves to do when added to boiling pasta is a) add unneeded calories to your meal and b) make the pasta so slippery that the sauce you mix into it after draining won’t stick to it properly.
Wait until the water is boiling
This might sound like a silly point to add in, but in reality most people don’t wait until their water is boiling properly before adding pasta. The main reason why pasta sticks to a pan is because the water isn’t moving sufficiently to keep it away from the edges in the first place.
Boiling doesn’t mean fizzing or slightly effervescent – the water should be physically rising, bubbling energetically and rolling away from the edges of the pan. Check that your water is actually boiling hot before pouring in your favourite rigatoni or tagliatelle, then you can leave your oil in the cupboard where it belongs.
Use a big enough pan
Moreover, if your pan isn’t big enough to give pasta room to move around whilst it is cooking and swelling with water, it will press up against the edges of the pan and be more likely to stick.
Many people think that a pan is big enough if the pasta fills it by the time they turn the hob off (I was guilty of this), rather than deliberately picking a large pan that will leave the pasta swirling loosely throughout the cooking process.
Make sure to use a pan much larger than the portion you are cooking, add lots of extra water – usually three times as much as the pasta itself (not just until it’s covered) and stir regularly. These three things will stop your pasta from clumping together and really up the quality of your finished product.
Keep it al dente
The glycemic index of pasta increases the longer it is cooked, meaning the overall sugar content you consume becomes higher. This causes a short-lived spike in your energy levels followed by a crash, meaning you feel hungry sooner after eating.
In other words, the softer you like your pasta, the more fattening it is for you.
Pasta is best cooked for between 10-12 minutes. If you’re used to boiling it into oblivion, turn the hob off at 10 minutes and leave the pasta on the hob for 5 minutes more, the hot water will continue to soften it a little as it cools, without leaving you with mushy noodles as your end product.
Some people like to do a cold water rinse on their pasta to stop it from sticking. This really doesn’t do much except wash away that good, starchy layer that helps to bind pasta to whichever sauce you choose to add, leaving you with a slippery carb. It will also wash away a lot of the flavour you built up by boiling the pasta in salted water, so don’t bother with this step, just drain and serve.
Those were my five top tips for cooking pasta to perfection. Hopefully they will bust a few bad habits you picked up (give them a try even if it seems wrong) and get you on your way to cooking one of the seemingly simplest dishes out there to a high quality and better tasting standard.
Got any other pasta tips to share? Drop a post or comment on our Facebook page and let everyone know those clever tips and tricks you’ve got under your sleeve.
Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.