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How to Cook Pasta
The two main kinds of pasta are pasta secca and pasta fresco.  Pasta secca describes pasta made from semolina flour,
salt, and water, which is sold dried and rarely made at home.  Pasta fresco or pasta fatta in casa means fresh, homemade
pasta with a dough consisting of wheat flour, eggs, and a little water.  The fresh pasta category also includes a number of
pastas made without eggs.  Since dried pasta and fresh pasta require different cooking times, it is important to know the
difference.  Undercooked pasta is chewy and tastes raw.  Overcooked pasta has a mushy texture.
Cooking Dried Pasta


1. Use a large 6-quart saucepan or stockpot for 1 pound of pasta, so that the pasta can move freely in the boiling water.  Fill with at least 4 quarts of cold water and cover.  Over high heat, bring the water to a rolling boil.  If you are cooking more than 1 pound of pasta, use two pots instead of one large one.

2. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt to the pot.  This may seem like a lot, but it is difficult to salt pasta properly after it is cooked.

3. If you are cooking short shaped pasta, such as penne, tortellini, or shells, add it all at once and stir it immediately.  Bring the water back to the boil and start your timing.  If you are cooking long strands of pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine, or lasagna, take a handful of pasta and dip one end in the water. 
As the pasta softens, coil it until submerged, then start your timing.  Cook,uncovered, at a rolling boil,until the pasta is al dente, which means "firm to the bite."  Stir the pasta occasionally to prevent sticking.

4. Just before the end of the recommended cooking time, lift a piece of the pasta out of the water with a fork and test it by biting into it.  Be careful, it's hot!  The pasta should feel tender with a little resistance to the bite.  The firmness of dried pasta is different from that of fresh pasta but neither should be allowed to become too soft or it will loose its ability to carry the flavor of the sauce that will be added.  If the pasta is done, take it off the heat immediately. If not, continue cooking and test it again in another minute.  At this point, you may wish to reserve about a cup of the pasta water to use later if your pasta sauce seems too thick or dry.

5. Have a large colander ready in the sink to drain the pasta. Give the colander a few vigorous shakes to remove all of the water.  Do not rinse the pasta with water unless you are using it in a chilled pasta salad.  Turn the drained pasta into a serving dish and toss with a sauce.  The sauce should be evenly distributed with the pasta.  However great a sauce may be, it cannot sit on top of the pasta or at the bottom of the dish. Add a little of the cooking water if needed and toss again.  If it is necessary for the pasta to sit for a short time before serving, return it to the saucepan and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter to it, toss, and cover to keep warm.  Add your sauce to the pasta just before serving.

Cooking Fresh Pasta


Fresh pasta should be eaten the same day that it is made or frozen for later use. Follow the same cooking method as outlined above for dried pasta, simply reduce the cooking time. Take a strand out on a wooden fork and bite it to make sure it is done to your taste.  It should be 'resistent' but not tough. 

Average cooking times are:

*  Fresh Pasta  (1-3 minutes)
*  Fresh stuffed pasta  (3-7 minutes)
*  Dried long strands  (8-15 minutes)
*  Dried short shapes  (10-12 minutes)
Tips for Cooking Pasta



1. Do not add oil to the cooking water; it will not prevent it from sticking.
The best way to prevent pasta from sticking is to use a large amount of water, stir it often, and sauce the pasta immediately after it is drained.  The longer the pasta stands without the sauce, the more likely that it will stick together.

2. Do not rinse cooked pasta, except when making cold pasta salads.  The water cools the pasta and removes the surface starch which will prevent the sauce from adhering to it.

3. Pasta is best served in a warm bowl.  You may wish to place a bowl in the oven on low heat before serving. Another method is to place the serving bowl under the colander when draining the pasta.  The heat from the
cooking water will warm the bowl.

4. Many pastas are finished in the skillet in which the sauce is cooked.  Use a large 10 to 12-inch skillet for this purpose.  After the pasta is drained and added to the skillet, it needs a large surface area in which to combine
it with the sauce. The two are tossed together so that the pasta can absorb the flavor of the sauce.  A little of the pasta water may be added to thin the sauce if necessary.

5. Many cooks like to drizzle a finished pasta with a little extra-virgin olive oil just before serving.  It adds smoothness and extra flavor.
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