Pasta

Follow These 2 Steps to Achieve "Pasta Perfection"

April 25, 2017

Here's how I typically cook pasta (don't scream at me): Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a pinch of salt (I know this is wrong, but what am I, made of salt?), add noodles, set a timer for whatever the box says, drain, plop into a bowl, dollop some barely-warm sauce over top and mix it up as I eat. It's efficient.

Needless to say, my pasta—no matter how much cheese I add—never tastes as good as the pasta I order at restaurants. Nor does it taste as good as, with just a tad more care, it easily could.

And that's because, according to the authors of Perfect Pasta: Recipes and Secrets to Elevate the Classic Italian Meal, I'm ignoring the critical two-step stairway to pasta perfection (as defined by al dente noodles with the full flavor of the sauce).

Achieving this pasta perfection is a two-step process.

It takes only a bit more attention (and one additional pan) to achieve "a deeper-tasting dish in which all the ingredients are wedded in a well-balanced whole." Here's how:

Step 1

Undercook the pasta by about 2 minutes. (When you're only cooking pasta for 8 minutes total, this is a significant chunk of time!) "This ensures that the pasta maintains an essential spine of chewiness."

Step 2

Then, "finish cooking the noodles in the sauce, which, ideally, you’ve been simmering in a skillet on another burner." By adding the pasta to the sauce before it's fully cooked, you're giving the noodles (which are still not fully rehydrated) 1 to 3 minutes to absorb the flavors of the pan—to meld, to marry (I now pronounce you, pasta and sauce).

Photo by Bobbi Lin

And, it should be said, this does not have to be a fancy sauce—it could be as simple as olive oil, garlic, and herbs. In the cookbook, the authors apply this one-two step to all kinds of pasta dishes, from bucatini with ramps to rigatoni with spicy salami and tomato.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I once really salted the pasta water because someone, maybe Martha, said to salt it like seawater. I had to throw the pasta out. It was inedible. Lesson learned, so now I add enough to make it lightly seasoned. And that finishing in the sauce part makes a big difference. I think it's even more important than salting pasta water.”
— HalfPint
Comment

But what's the first pasta-sauce combination you'll try it on? Personally, I've got my eye on some asparagus and brown butter.


More Pasta Tips to Pick Up

What's the best pasta tip you've picked up? Tell us in the comments below!

8 Comments

food K. June 6, 2017
Explore more about pastas in my blog! Hope you learn more about pasta recipes and cuisines! http://yourcookingtipsandrecipes.blogspot.com/2013/08/exploring-foodstyles-pasta.html
 
Lori A. April 25, 2017
Also, DO NOT rinse the pasta (macaroni! Ha) in cold water after draining....you rinse off all that good starch!!!
 
Jessica H. April 25, 2017
Yes, from finishing the pasta in the sauce is a good practice. But being someone that likes to also have plain pasta with a little buyer and cracked pepper in addition to some with sauce, it's not the way for me!
 
Sharon May 6, 2017
Jessica, does the cracked pepper get into the "buyer's" eyes? :) LOL
 
HalfPint April 25, 2017
I do what @Gino de blasio instructs below. I once really salted the pasta water because someone, maybe Martha, said to salt it like seawater. I had to throw the pasta out. It was inedible. Lesson learned, so now I add enough to make it lightly seasoned. And that finishing in the sauce part makes a big difference. I think it's even more important than salting pasta water.
 
Gino D. April 25, 2017
Sarah, why is adding salt to water before the pasta (not noodles) incorrect? Your water should taste like a lightly seasoned sea water. Never put oil in the water and always, always keep a cup of starchy water to the side when finishing off your pasta in the sauce in case it goes dry. Take it from an Italian and someone who has studied pasta cooking for over a decade.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. April 25, 2017
Hi Gino, I meant that my quantity (just a pinch!) is incorrect. I know it should be more like a handful. And thank you for your other tips!
 
Donna H. April 25, 2017
It's 7:30 am and I want pasta now!<br />