The art of cooking good pasta

garlic prawns aglio olio .

Over the weekend, I learnt a couple of cool new things about cooking pasta properly.

Use the BIG pot.  You need lots and lots of water to cook pasta so size does matter in this case.  If you use a pot that’s too small, you will run into a couple of problems because (1) your pasta will not have enough space to move around and cook properly and (2) you won’t have enough water to wash away the starch so your pasta will end up sticky and icky.  This means it has nothing to do with adding oil to the water.  If you cook your pasta properly, they won’t stick.  In fact, adding oil simply means you end up with oily pasta.

Add salt to the water! Okay, this is something I hardly ever do simply because I figured since I wanted to cut down our salt intake in the first place, then why bother?  I found out that you have to add salt if you want your pasta to cook properly.  And plenty of it.  That’s about 1 tablespoon for 4 servings.  Leaving it out means your pasta is likely to cook unevenly and the worst part is that you will end up with pasta that has a slimy texture.  I also learnt that pasta absorbs very little salt, and most of the salt gets drained away with the water.  Did you also know that if you don’t add salt to your pasta during the cooking process, your pasta remains bland even if you have plenty of salt in your pasta sauce? So the only way to bring out the natural flavor of the pasta is by adding salt to the water.

Drain immediately. Timing is crucial when it comes to ensuring that you get your pasta just right.  So it’s important not to overcook.  Follow the instructions on the package, and when the timing is about there, pick up a strand and take a bite.  It should be tender but still firm.  Once your pasta is done, don’t leave it sitting around in the pot as it will continue to cook and soften so drain immediately.  This is something I’m sometimes guilty of not doing, especially if I’m still working on the sauce.  I guess the lesson here is if you want good pasta, pay attention.

To rinse or not to rinse?  This bit confuses me all the time.  From what I’ve read, you only rinse if you plan on using your pasta in a cold dish or when you are not going to add the sauce and serve immediately.  In these cases, you rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and drain well.

The minute I found out there was a technique to the whole thing, the nerd in me just had to try it out. I followed the process step by step, and made a garlic prawn aglio olio for lunch on Sunday.  And hey, guess what, the pasta turned out perfect.

You will need (serves 2)

  • Fresh prawns (washed, shelled and deveined)
  • Pasta of your choice (I used spaghetti)
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic – minced
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (I used fresh chilli padi which made the dish really spicy)
  • EVOO (go watch Rachel Ray if you don’t know what this is :P)
  • Salt
  • Garlic salt and pepper

Cook pasta according package directions, and follow tips above.

Sprinkle prawns with garlic salt and pepper.  Cook prawns in skillet until just pink and firm.  Remove. 

Using the same skillet on medium low heat, add a few generous swirls of EVOO in the pan, toss in garlic and red pepper and fry for about a minute. 

Toss spaghetti in the pan with the garlic oil, add prawns and salt to taste.  Serve hot.


6 thoughts on “The art of cooking good pasta”

  1. i love this post… also, have you ever heard of using tongs to toss your pasta in the sauce instead of mixing with a wooden spoon? i keep reading/seeing on tv that this is the way you are supposed to get the sauce around your pasta but i wasn’t sure if it really makes THAT big of a difference?

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