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How to Cook Pasta

Carb up on our words of wisdom, golden rules and more.
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pasta in colander

MARCELLA HAZAN'S WORDS OF WISDOM

She's one of Rach's favorite cookbook authors and is often credited with introducing traditional Italian food to Americans. She's also mother to Giuliano, the author of this story, and fondly recalls his passion for pasta since he was a toddler. All bragging rights aside, the matriarch of Italian cooking knows her pasta, and that a great dish depends on more than just the ingredients -- if you're serious about good eats, it should be served hot and fresh. "Pasta must never be made to wait," she says. Here are her timing tips for dishing it out just right:

A colander should be sitting in the sink so the pasta can be drained the very instant it's cooked.

The moment it's drained, it should be plopped into a large, warm bowl.

Losing no time, it should quickly be tossed with warm sauce that has been kept at the ready. Tossing must be fast but meticulous to coat the pasta thoroughly with sauce.

It should be served promptly on warm plates to diners ready to begin eating.

THE GOLDEN RULES OF COOKING PASTA

1. Fill a large pot with 6 quarts of water for 1 pound of pasta. (That's about three-quarters full.) Pasta needs room to move or it'll clump.

2. Once the cooking water comes to a boil, season it with a palmful of salt (about 2 tablespoons) to enhance the subtle flavor of the pasta.

3. Cook the pasta, uncovered, at a rolling boil and stir it often to keep it from sticking.

PASTA MYTHS -- DEBUNKED!

Breaking long pasta into shorter pieces makes it easier to eat.
If spaghetti were better short, it would have been made that way! Plus, broken strands are hard to eat since they're not long enough to twirl onto a fork.

Add olive oil to the cooking water to keep the pasta from sticking.
Pasta shouldn't stick when properly cooked. If it's cooked with olive oil, it will actually coat the noodles and prevent sauce from sticking.

Throw the pasta against the wall -- if it sticks, it's done.
The only way to know if it's done is to taste it! It should be al dente, or firm to the bite. The more pasta cooks, the gummier it gets, so if it sticks to the wall it's probably overdone.

Rinse pasta after cooking and draining.
This will make the pasta cold and rinse away the starch that helps bind the sauce to it.

It's all about the sauce.
Italians will tell you it's pasta with sauce -- not sauce with pasta! Too much sauce buries the flavor of the pasta and overwhelms it.

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