How to cook pasta the Italian way


«You won’t believe how they butcher pasta!» is a comment so common in Italians returning for a trip abroad that it has become a sort of a running gag. Truth to be told, however, the disregard toward this simple and tasty food abroad is puzzling – especially when cooking it right make it really shine, and without any particular effort. So, without any further ado, here is the real, traditional Italian way to make pasta.

The basic trick is sometimes called ‘the 1-10-100 rule’ – meaning that for every 100 grams of pasta you should use 1 liter of water and 10 grams of salt. This is because pasta needs to float freely in its cooking water in order not to stick, and it is supposed to “suck up” water.
But there is more to it:

  • Use a tall pot, taller than it is wide. You want this kind of pot both for the floating thing mentioned above and to be able to let the water boil without fear of it overflowing.
  • Get the water – just water, please! – boiling faster by putting a lid on the pot. We are talking about large, fierce bubbles here. Part of the great taste of pasta in Italy is the excellent quality of tap water pretty much throughout the country. If your local water is chlorinated or not especially good for drinking, you may want to use a good, low-minerals spring water instead.
  • Add the salt only when the water is boiling, then stir with a wooden spoon until the temperature goes back to boiling point.
  • Dunk the pasta. Long shapes (think spaghetti) are supposed to go in all together, while shorter shapes are better added a bit at a time, in order not to cool down the water too much.
  • Stir for one minute, to make sure that the sudden release of starch doesn’t make anything stick
  • Put the lid back on leaving a little vent for “breathing”, and cook for the number of minutes suggested on the pack minus one minute. You’ll see why.
  • Stir a little more from time to time, and when the time is up drain the pasta but keep a little cooking water – about two spoons is fine. Do not, for any reason on Earth, pour cold water on the pasta.
  • Moving quickly, pour whatever sauce you are serving the pasta with in the pot (yes, with that little water in), and add the pasta. The pot now goes on the fire for the last minute of cooking, during which you will stir constantly the contents in order to get the sauce partly absorbed by the pasta and the water to evaporate.
  • Unless your sauce has cheese as one of its ingredients, cheese is grated on the pasta at the very last moment, when it is being served in the dish – otherwise the flavor will go missing in the mix.

And what about the oil some people add to the cooking water? Those few drops are only used in the case of freshly-made pasta, as it tends to stick much more than the kind you can find in supermarkets.