Pasta and pizza are the iconic Italian . You all probably have heard of spaghetti alla Bolognese, the most know preparation of pasta in the world. That is just one of the endless possibilities you have to garnish your pasta.
First point: “cooking pasta” means actually cooking the pasta and the sauce. While cooking the pasta itself is basically made by only one step “throw pasta in boiling water”, the sauce can be a more complicate affair. I will give you the recipes for two easy sauces, very popular in Italy. Since the basic steps are more or less the same, you can go on and create your own sauce from there.
Second point: each kind of pasta has a cooking time, usually indicated on the package. Cook pasta for less than the cooking time, and it will remain hard. Go over the cooking time and it will become softer and softer. Go well beyond the cooking time and congratulations! You have inedible glue!
We Italians like our pasta “al dente”, that means a little hard. You usually get it “al dente” by cooking it for exactly the indicated cooking time. But beware: since foreigners often prefer their pasta soft, you may find on the package a cooking time that reflects this and advises you to cook the pasta for much more time than an Italian would. Since pasta is cheap, you can throw away a little and experiment until you find your perfect cooking time.
Third point: Just do me a favor, no ketchup. No ketchup. Repeat with me: “No ketchup. Ever.”
Take a pot, fill it with water and put it on the stove, heat it untill it boils. Put a lid on, to make it boil faster.
When the water boils, add salt. We use “sale grosso”, my dictionary calls it “cooking salt”. It’s salt in big grains of irregular shapes. You can use the finer table salt, it won’t change the flavor, but you will need a lot more and in my opinion it’s harder to measure the right quantity – but remember: I’m doing this on almost daily basis, so I’m working out of habit here. You my find that for you it’s easier to get the right quantity of salt by using table salt. The “right quantity of salt” is a personal taste affair, experiment until you find yours. Why must you wait until the water boils to add salt? Because salted water takes longer to reach the boiling point. Adding salt right away won’t affect the final flavor, but it will lengthen the time to reach the boiling point.
After adding salt, wait half a minute, then put the pasta in. Put the pasta in the water when it returns to a boil, not before, or you will ruin it!
Cook the pasta as indicated on the package, stirring the pasta often to avoid it sticking. Now, cooking pasta is simple and there are no secrets in it. But there is one trick. Pasta is like a sponge: it absorbs the fluid in which it’s immersed. Cooking it immersed in water is ok, but cooking it immersed in the sauce is better! It will be flavoured by the sauce from the inside.
So here’s the trick: one minute before the cooking time is over pour one or two table spoons of cooking water from the pot in the pan where you are heating the sauce, then strain the pasta out of the water and pour it in the pan, mixing it with the sauce and ending the cooking time in there. Let it heat for a minute to a minute and a half, then take the pan from heat and serve your pasta.