Pasta and I are inseparable. Once a week, after a little bit of careful planning, I sit down with a (big) bowl of pasta in whatever sauce is my current favourite. It’s a nice little tradition – something I really look forward to. I spend some time hemming and hawing over the sauce, make a final pick and set out to boil pasta and begin working. Of course, I like to expand my horizons too – I want to experiment more with fresh pasta and gnocchi too (I’ve overcome my fear after a super fun cookoff with Ritu Dalmia. Read more about it here) but yesterday, after a long time, I felt like cooking something new. I mean, with easy sauces like Marinara or Tomato cream, it’s easy to fall into a sauce rut. I resisted and went on to peek in the vegetable crisper. I had 2 roasted red peppers and I immediately knew it was going to end up roasted, cooked and coating my pasta. But more on that tomorrow, it needs its own post.
But before we talk sauce, here are some tips to ensure you have perfectly boiled pasta every time:
#1 To serve 4 people, take a large handful of pasta for each as it doubles in volume. This ensures a tiny portion for seconds and NONE left over!
#2 For perfectly long spaghetti (I’ve recently switched to whole wheat and loving it), take a large pot and fill it half way with water. Add the spaghetti in straight, long strands – with one end dipped into the water and the other exposed. Once the bottom half (that’s immersed in the water) starts cooking and therefore, softening, the spaghetti will automatically keep sliding down till it is completely immersed in the water.
#3 Here’s a thumb rule – pasta must be as salty as sea water. I add up to 2 – 3 tablespoons of salt (regular, not sea salt) depending on the quantity of water. This way, your pasta is well seasoned and pairs perfectly with your sauce.
#4 I never add pasta to water unless it has come to a rolling boil. If you add it before, it tends to clump together and become sticky because of the starchy coating. Let the water come to a complete boil and add pasta, salt and a tiny drizzle of olive oil for shiny, perfectly seasoned pasta.
#5 Save a cupful of pasta water – because the starch from the dried pasta has been released into the water, it is excellent for helping your pasta mingle with the sauce. The starchy water helps it bind beautifully.
#6 Generally, I try to make the sauce while the pasta is boiling but if you don’t have that kind of time and like to pre-boil your pasta, make sure you drain it well (but save a cup) and keep it in the colander. Then, just before adding it to the sauce, give it a quick whirl under running tap water. If you still think its sticky, add a little bit of olive oil and toss well before adding to the sauce.
#7 To test if the pasta is al dente, I generally remove it a little before it’s almost there. Then, I give it a few extra minutes to bathe in the sauce. Overcooked pasta was somebody that I used to know.
#8 Never, ever mix your pasta and sauce if you don’t intend to serve it immediately, unless you’re baking it. Re-heating is a nightmare. Instead, save a cup of pasta water, keep drained pasta in a colander and make your sauce beforehand. Just before serving, re-heat the sauce over the stove, refresh pasta under running tap water and add a little bit of pasta water into the sauce, then add pasta, toss well, check for seasoning and serve!
#9 I never like to season pasta till the very end – if the sauce includes onions, I add a wee bit to ensure that onions release the excess moisture – but generally all sauces include a lot of cheese (which also has salt) and the inclusion of pasta and salty pasta water is a contributing factor. Leave the seasoning for the end to ensure you don’t overseason.
#10 Amp up the pasta party by serving it with salt, pepper and grated cheese (I like Parmesan or a mix of Parmesan, Pecorino and Asiago) on the table. This way, everyone can season it the way they like. But, really it’s so everyone add as much cheese as they like.
If you’re all pasta and nowhere to go, try these sauces:
Spaghetti Sauce (I could eat this by the jar)
Source: Conde Nast Collection