Friday, October 18, 2013

Two Tips for Cooking Pasta like an Italian Chef

Fusili with Chard Tomato & Bacon Sauce
Recipe for Fusili with Chard, Tomato & Bacon
When it comes to boiling spaghetti or other pasta, there's a good chance you're doing it wrong -- or at least not the way an experienced Italian cook or professional chef would do it.

And if you're not doing it their way, you're missing out on superior flavor in all your favorite pasta and spaghetti recipes.

For generations, the conventional home cook's wisdom had been to add a dash of salt and a splash of oil to the water before boiling spaghetti or pasta. In recent years, however, there's been some controversy about whether to do either, with some people warning that salt adds nothing but unwanted sodium, and others swearing that oil is the only way to keep pasta from sticking prior to saucing, and some culinary rebels declaring that neither addition is necessary.

To settle the debate once and for all, I did some research and checked with some chefs to learn what tastes best. Here are the two tried-and-true tips from the experts that they use at home and at their restaurants:

1. Generously salt the water.  Contrary to popular belief, the salt doesn't do much to speed up the boiling time, nor will it add unacceptable amounts of sodium to your pasta. What it will do, however, is enhance its natural flavor, much the same way that the right touch of salt on virtually any dish will complement and enhance its flavors (e.g., salted caramels, finishing a salad or steak with a dusting of sea salt, the coarse Kosher salt on a soft pretzel, etc.). Don't believe me? Add at least a couple of teaspoons or a tablespoon of salt to the water the next time you boil pasta or spaghetti, and for heaven's sake do not rinse the pasta after draining. Then serve as you normally would and see if you can taste a difference (it will be more evident with simpler preparations, e.g., pasta tossed with a little olive oil or butter and garlic or herbs). While this may seem like a lot of salt, it really is not when you consider that nearly all of it will be discarded along with the boiling water, leaving behind beautifully-seasoned, not salty, spaghetti or pasta.

King of Pasta
King of Pasta Gift Set - click to buy
2. Don't add oil to the water. Sure, adding oil might slightly reduce the risk that some of the pasta might stick together after it's drained, but there's a better way to accomplish that (keep reading for that way). What adding oil will definitely do, however, is keep your sauce from sticking to the pasta as well as it should! Any oil coating on the spaghetti or other pasta will create a slick surface, causing tomato or cream sauces to slide off and pool at the bottom of the plate, rather than adhering to the cooked pasta. You didn't add that sauce just to eat naked or partially nude pasta followed by spoonfuls of sauce; rather, you want to taste that savory, saucy goodness with every bite of spaghetti or pasta. So leave the oil out of the water -- and to keep pasta from sticking after draining, be prepared to sauce it immediately after draining or return it to the empty pot with just a little bit of the water in which you boiled it. Better still, instead of draining into a colander, pour out most of the water from the pot and use a pasta scoop or server to scoop out the cooked spaghetti or pasta onto plates or a bowl and then adding the sauce, or scoop directly into the pot or bowl holding your sauce and then toss to coat.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

PS:  If you're searching for a gourmet pasta gift to give this Christmas or holiday season, send the King of Pasta Gift Set, shown above right, with a variety of imported Italian pastas and a bottle of extraordinary white truffle oil.

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