Cooking Pasta: Rules and Misconceptions

Cooking Pasta: Rules and Misconceptions

©Shutterstock

Cooking Pasta: Rules and Misconceptions

Cooking Pasta: Rules and Misconceptions

©Shutterstock

When it comes to cooking pasta there are some golden rules and stubborn myths. We sort the wheat from the chaff.

  • Pasta and Sauce
    The way the pasta combines with the sauce is crucial. It makes a difference whether you pour the sauce over the pasta or whether you mix the pasta in a pan with the ready-cooked sauce. The latter is correct. This is the only way for the sauce to blend perfectly with the pasta.
  • The Pasta Cooking Water
    The theory that pasta should be cooked in as much water as possible persists – but it is wrong. When pasta is cooked, starch gets into the water and the cooking water becomes an important element of the final dish that can affect flavour and texture. The starchy water helps to bind the sauce, making it smoother, so you should always hold some back. It is best not to strain the pasta in a colander: tongs or a pasta fork are ideal for longish types of pasta like linguini or spaghetti. For shorter, small pasta a slotted spoon is ideal.
  • Oil in the pasta water?
    There is a widespread and persistent theory that you have to add oil to the cooking water to prevent the pasta from sticking together. This is fundamentally wrong: oily noodles won’t combine as well with the sauce. Steer clear of the oil while cooking.
  • Al dente or not?
    Dried pasta must always be cooked al dente, that means firm to the bite, i.e. not too soft or overcooked. This is different for fresh pasta and egg-pasta (pasta all'uovo) and their cooking time is much shorter: it should be soft but not overcooked.
  • Carbonara with or without cream?
    Carbonara made with cream is a widespread misconception outside of Italy. Throughout Italy, spaghetti carbonara is made only with eggs, guanciale (cured pork cheek or jowl) and grated hard cheese (ideally pecorino). Of course, you can also use Parmesan and bacon. But using cream is a no-no.