The Cooks ABC – Perfect Pasta

By Alan Lugton, Cookery Manager

When I was growing up, one of the first meals I learned to cook was pasta. It was easy, versatile and always hit the spot when I was hungry. So I was fascinated to learn that in a recent survey of cooking skills, 35% of people said that they did not know how to make a simple pasta dish.

In this blog, I aim to give you the knowledge you need to cook pasta and start you on the road to creating your own wonderful and delicious pasta dishes.

Pasta on its own is a very simple ingredient to cook, however in combination with other ingredients and sauces it can transform into one of literally hundreds of delicious dishes. So let’s look at the simple part first… how to cook the pasta.

There are a few basic rules for cooking the perfect pasta. Follow these and you cannot go far wrong.

Seven Golden Rules

For cooking perfect pasta, every time:

  1. Make sure that you use plenty of water to boil the pasta (1 litre of water for every 100 grams of pasta).
  2. Bring the water to a hard boil before you add salt (around 10 grams of salt for every litre of water) then pour in the pasta and return to boil.
  3. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking and continue to boil, without a lid.
  4. Don’t overcook. The pasta should be ‘al dente’, which means it should be ‘firm to the bite’, yet cooked through. It’s better to taste the pasta before draining it.
  5. When it’s ready drain the pasta but don’t rinse it with cold water. The pasta should be hot when mixed with the sauce. (If you are using the pasta for cold salads, you may rinse it with water or drip on a little oil to prevent it from sticking while it cools).
  6. Timing is important. The sauce and pasta should be ready at the same time. In many recipes such as the carbonara, bad timing would result in bad pasta. Mix the pasta with the sauce as soon as they are ready. Leaving the pasta on its own might result in sticking.
  7. With very few exceptions, pasta should be served immediately. According to an Italian saying, “the guest should wait for the pasta, not the pasta for the guest!”

More here:

The Sauce

There is much written about sauces and how much importance people put on them. For many the sauce will make or break a dish. Pasta in all its many shapes and sizes is designed to hold the sauces to give maximum flavour, and so it is rare to have one without the other. However don’t let this fool you into thinking that sauces are complicated, some of the simplest ones have proven to be the most popular.

Why not try this ‘arrabiatta’ sauce recipe

Match your sauces to your pasta

Pasta comes in so many shapes and sizes because the sauces come in so many different flavours, textures, and consistencies. Each pasta is designed to complement a different style of sauce.

Thin delicate pasta such as spaghetti is best suited for light, thin sauces such as fresh tomato and herb; whereas the flatter types of pasta like fettuccine and linguine are great for more oily sauces, such as pesto and aioli – because they are thicker, they require more flavoursome sauces.

The chunky varieties are perfect for chunky sauces as they have lots of little spaces and grooves to trap your ingredients and give a greater depth of flavour. If you want to use smooth sauces with chunky pasta, use the type with ridges on it (rigate). Chunky pasta is also good for pasta bakes as they hold up to the longer cooking times better.

More information on the variety of pasta shapes.

Once you know the basics of cooking pasta the rest is really up to you – start with simple sauces using classic ingredients but once you feel confident enought, why not get creative in the kitchen and see what flavour combinations you can come up with.

Try one of these 10 creative pasta sauces.

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