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How to cook perfect pasta the easy way
Pasta is a great base for inexpensive meals, but many people worry about getting the pasta "just right." Will it be cooked enough? Will it be gooey? A few simple tips make perfect pasta easy.
First, choose the right pasta for your sauce. Light-bodied tomato sauces or broth-based sauces call for thin, skinny noodles like vermicelli or capellini, so that the noodles can be coated with sauce. For medium or heavy sauces like Alfredo, use wider noodles like fettucine. Short, ridged noodles 'grab' sauces. If you've been avoiding pasta looking for something healthier, all of these choices are available in whole wheat and whole grain versions. They're slightly sweeter and chewier than traditional pastas.
Use plenty of water, and don't overcrowd the pot. Make sure there's plenty of room for the pasta to cook without sticking together. Plan on using approximately 4-6 quarts for 1 pound of pasta.
Adding oil to water to prevent sticking is an old wives' tale. The best way to prevent sticking is to use plenty of water. But do salt the water. This is your only opportunity to flavor the pasta while it's cooking. Just don't get too heavy with the salt. Remember, the sauce is going to add flavor and salt as well.
Bring the water to a boil before adding the pasta. When first adding the pasta, give it a quick stir to keep it from sticking together and to the pot.
Throwing the noodles against the wall to check for doneness is fun, but it's not the best method. The cooking time on the package is a guide, but the best way to see if the texture is right is to actually try a piece. The Italian term "al dente" means "to the tooth," or a little chewy. American tend to like it a bit softer. Remember that the pasta has absorbed heat and will continue to cook, so take it off the heat just before it's done to your tastes.
Drain the cooked pasta in a calendar, but don't rinse it. The starch helps the sauce stick. Only rinse pasta if it's going to be used cold.