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).
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:
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."
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).
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.
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!