Cooking pasta seems straightforward. Simply throw it into some boiling water and when soft, serve it up. Yet avoiding a soggy mess of overcooked pasta means paying close attention to the cooking process. So, whether you’re serving up penne, tagliatelle or spaghetti, here’s how to cook perfect pasta every time.
How to cook pasta
1. Fill a large saucepan with plenty of water – about one litre per 100g of pasta. Too little water will make your pasta sticky. Add salt to the water – one or two teaspoons should be enough for a large pot.
2. Place the saucepan over a high heat and bring the water to a roiling boil. This means lots of bubbles and movement across the whole surface of the water.
3. Measure the pasta you need. Allow 75-100g of dried, or 115-150g of fresh, pasta per person for a main meal. Refer to your recipe if necessary.
4. Slowly add the pasta to the boiling water and stir to stop the pasta from sticking together.
5. Start timing when the water returns to a boil. Most pasta cooks in 8-12 minutes but check the packaging for specific cooking times. If necessary, lower the heat slightly during cooking so the water doesn't foam up and over the pan sides.
6. When the cooking time has expired, check the pasta by carefully fishing a piece out of the water with a spoon or fork, and tasting it.
Pasta is best served ‘al dente’ (‘to the tooth’ in Italian), which means it should feel slightly firm in the middle when you bite through it. If the pasta is still too hard or you prefer your pasta softer, continue to cook it.
Remember though, pasta will continue to cook when removed from the direct heat so it’s best to undercook it slightly to your preference.
7. Remove the saucepan from the heat and drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse it as this removes the surface starch that lets the sauce stick to the pasta. However, if you’re serving pasta cold in a salad, it’s OK to rinse to avoid clumpy pasta.
8. Return the pasta to the saucepan and add whatever sauce you’ve chosen.
Don’t cook different pasta shapes or brands together in same saucepan. They’ll have different cooking times so won’t be ready at the same time.
Time the cooking carefully as pasta can overcook very quickly. Undercook pasta if adding it to a baked dish, as it will finish cooking in the sauce while in the oven.
Don’t add oil to the cooking water, unless cooking lasagne sheets. Oil will coat the pasta, stopping the sauce from adhering to it. However, a drop or two of oil will reduce the foaming that causes the water to boil over, which is useful if you’re using a shallow saucepan rather than a tall pasta pot.