Pasta 101: Betcha didn't know that!

You might be making pasta a certain way because that's how you've always done it, or that's how you were taught.  I thought I would publish some pasta fundamentals. As an engineer I ask "why" a lot, and found  some good answers/reasons over the years. A few small techniques go a long way in texture, taste, and presentation!
1.  Pronounciation: Pasta is pronounced PAHS-tah, not PASS-tah.  With the Royal wedding in the blinding spotlight, now is a good time to practice your English accent.  "Pardon, Paula, would you possibly pass the parsley for my pasta?" 

2.  Yield: This obviously depends on a few things.  Are you serving sides and an appetizer with the dish? Lots of mixins/veggies and sauce in the pasta? A good rule of thumb is 3/4 cup of pasta per person.  That's for penne, orrechiette, or medium sized pasta.  For smaller pastas like orzo, elbows, or ditalini, use 1/2 cup per person...smaller pasta is usually in a soup or salad so you'll have to gage based on what you are serving.  For something like spaghetti, a 16-oz box serves 4.

3.  The vessel: Use a large pot with lots of water.  You know how you don't like close-talkers?  Pasta doesn't like other pasta getting in their personal space either.  More water means a happier pasta.

4.  The Water: Cold water in the pot only.  Hot water from the tap is public transportation for gross stuff in the pipes.  And once boiled, hot water might kill some things, but it absorbs the worst things.

5.  Hold the Olive Oil: I don't know who came up with this idea, but your pasta water doesn't need oil.  Whoever came up with this notion should have taken a chemistry class first because everyone knows that oil and water don't even mix.  What is the point of having olive oil globules dancing on the surface of a rolling boil?

6.  Put a lid on it: Get the water to a fast boil by covering the pot.  And it's more "green".

7.  Salt: You MUST add salt to the water, after it reaches a boil.  This is how you season the pasta.  You need at least a tablespoon.  Omiting this step will cost you serious flavor, and seasoning the dish afterwards won't make up for it.  Wait for it to reach a boil so that the water boils faster, and the salt dissolves faster.  Once it dissolves, THEN add the pasta.

8. Cook to "al dente": No one wants mushy food in their mouth unless you just graduated from breast milk.  Al dente is the SIGNATURE of pasta.  Put away angry birds on your smart phone for a few minutes and keep an eye on your pasta, because there's a narrow window between undercooked and overcooked.

9. Stop ruining your walls: Don't throw spaghetti on your backsplash to check if it's done.  That doesn't work unless you have feathered bangs and live in 1985.  Just take a bite.

10. Drain immediately and return pasta back to the pot:  Drain the water from pasta the moment it's done, and then put it back it the pot to add your sauce, veggies, etc.   There's no down-time between the two tasks - otherwise you'll have sauce-noodle attraction issues. Sauce only flirts with a glistening noodle.


  1. Great new logo!!!!!
    "Sauce only flirts with a glistening noodle.".
    Love it!

  2. Lol you rock woman. No one else could write such a fun post about the details of pasta. PAHS-tah and all.

  3. Lol I LOVE these tips! Most of them are new to me. I've been adding my salt too early all these years it seems =).

  4. Roshni - make us a t-shirt! :P
    Laura - thanks for reading and commenting...I forgot the word "Parmesan" in my pasta tongue twister!
    Xiaolu - don't worry I've been doing some of those things too...like the hot water out of the tap. I probably have lead poisoning from that...

  5. AnonymousMay 05, 2011

    Lovely post on the whole, but just a few things.

    For the sake of conservation, it may be wise to use less water and as a result less energy to heat said water. Harold McGee (one of my favorite food writers) actually experimented with various amounts of water, and found (among other things) that with just 2 quarts, a full pound of spaghetti "had the texture and saltiness I expected, seemed about as sticky as usual, and when tossed with a little oil, seemed perfectly normal." Plenty of more info and experimentation at https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/dining/25curi.html.

    I would recommend *not* holding the olive oil. Oil and water don't mix, and that's sort of the point. The olive oil breaks the surface tension and prevents boilover. A quick google search gave me this general chemistry FAQ page that addresses the specific issue: http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/consumer/faq/oil-and-defoaming.shtml

    Hope this helps!

  6. This is great! Love the "close talker" comment :) I didn't get a chance to meet you at Camp Blogaway but I look forward to reading your blog!

  7. anonymous - thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. I appreciate your thoughts. I agree that with less water there's not a detectable difference in taste or texture, but then again the experiment was done w spaghetti whereas tube-like pasta have a different geometry and more surface area.. regarding the olive oil...i've usually got an eye on my pasta...i never walk away really so boil over is not a problem for me. Plus, no one in italy puts oil in their water...and they MUST know what they are doing, right? I've never needed it, but by all means, if it works for you, great!!!

  8. kristina - thanks for check my blog out! i look forward to our "bloggership" :)


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