Updated: Apr 4, 2019
Ahhhh the old saying...but for sake of not creating a mess, let's just stick to the basics. Now, cooking pasta to perfection always seems to be a challenge for some. That irksome question always whispering in your ear of whether it's "al dente" or no. Well, we're here to try to relieve some of that very silly, unsavory, stress that you might feel when you're partaking in this endeavor. Given that there are hundreds maybe even thousands of types of pasta in this world, each and every one has a different cooking time. EACH A DIFFERENT COOKING TIME! NO! Before you freak, remember there are generally the cooking times written on the packaging for your convenience. Also, its not like even the best chefs in the world can remember all the times of all the different pastas. So you're not alone in this! You just need to learn to follow the basic guidelines and you will be all set and like a pro! There are a few things you will need to understand before we jump into the ground rules.
Remember, the post on the different flours one can use to make pasta, we explained that this difference greatly determines the outcome of the pasta. Well, much like flours, the type of pasta greatly determines the cooking time. Dry packaged commercial products take much longer to cook than fresh or fresh dry pasta. This is due to the fact that it is made from "hard" flours (with the exclusion of egg) of which are then extruded and compressed through a bronze, teflon, or gold die (a specialized tool used in pasta machinery to cut or shape the pasta using a press). The best quality pasta is usually extruded through bronze dies. These dies create a rough, more sandy texture to the surface which allows the pasta to better absorb the sauce. Pastas doughs extruded from bronze dies change in surface color and are usually indicated from their ivory color. These higher quality pasta are dried slowly at lower temperatures to maintain its flavors and texture. Thus, are generally more expensive. Teflon dies are most commonly used among commercial pasta brands. Its "nonstick" surface results in a more smooth texture and remains yellow in color. These pastas are dried more rapidly at much higher temperatures. This results in a more friable texture and flavor loss. Due to its quality, it costs much less. Fresh pasta and fresh dried pasta are more delicate and tender because they are artisanally hand laminated from softer doughs. Therefore, these pastas require about half the cooking time as the commercially dried.
So when you buy artisanal pasta, keep in mind that you will be spending about half the time preparing your meal! Wow, now that sounds awesome! Especially when we humans are always looking for more convenient ways to do things now-a-days. As you know, Pastificio's pasta is indeed fresh dry. Therefore, you guessed it, it takes next to nothing to cook!
Now, for that pesky question: Is it al-dente?
You've all heard of it. But what does it really mean. The concept of "al dente" was first introduced in Napoli, Italy in the early 1800's. In the early years, pasta was in fact cooked until fairly soft. This began to change when Napolitani street carts began selling pasta that was cooked slightly more firm. Over time, the Napolitani favored this over the soft pasta because it was more chewy and its durable texture allowed for easier consumption. This custom eventually spread throughout Italy by the 1900s. However, it wasn't until the after World War I that the term was born into the Italian language. The term more definitively means firm to the bite or "to the tooth." In essence, it describes the ideal consistency when cooking pasta. Pasta cooked "al dente" is actually much better for us. Because the starch's molecules in pasta are so tightly packed, the more we cook the pasta the more slowly and more difficult it is digested. Thus, the slightly firmer pasta is much healthier in that its glycemic index is lower than its softer alternative.
The "ideal" "al dente" consistency of pasta varies for both commercially dry pastas and artisanally fresh/fresh dry pasta. Obviously, the commercially dry pasta are much harder in respect to the artisanally made fresh dry pasta. Therefore, its "al dente" consistency will be slightly different. This is not to say that fresh dry pasta can not be cooked al dente. Its only to say that when indeed it is cooked al dente, it will have a much more "tender" al dente quality to it in respect to the commercial. Needless to say, cooking your pasta, whatever type it might be, it is always better to cook it "al dente."
The ground rules for cooking pasta to perfection:
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water (about 4 quarts for every pound of pasta). The water must be liberally salted (about a half handful). If unsure about the quantity of salt, simply, take a teaspoon and taste the water before proceeding with the pasta. The pasta needs room to roll around and it is crucial that the water remains boiling. Thus, the more water, the better. For certainty, boil the water over highest heat possible. If the water is not boiling while you cook the pasta, it will result in a very "gooey" and unsatisfying consistency.
It is always best to have the "sugo" (sauce) you will be using ready and hot before the pasta is cooked. Before draining the cooked pasta, take a small cup (or bowl) and collect some of the pasta water. Put aside. This water contains starch from the pasta and can help bind the sauce and make the final dish creamy and delicious. Once drained, transfer to the pan of sauce and add a small amount of that starchy water. Stir or jump the pasta quite vigorously. Many Italians also add a small amount of olive oil during this process, but this is optional. Unless using the pasta for a cold salad, do not rinse after draining. This will get rid of all that starchy goodness that is used in the final step.
Because you should always "jump" the pasta in the sauce before serving, it is best to remove and drain the pasta a minute or two before the cooking time indicates. Then add to the sauce to finish off its cooking. By doing this, the sauce is being absorbed by the pasta. This also thickens the sauce and helps the binding process describe in rule 2. ***NOTE: Because artisanal pasta has a much shorter cooking time, unless you feel confident in following through with this step, it is not necessary when cooking fresh or fresh dried pastas.
Most importantly - Pasta waits for no one! So before you begin cooking, make sure the table is set, you serving bowls or dishes are warm and you are ready to go!
Pastificio's Cooking Directions
Our pasta is fresh as you know! All it needs is to boil for about 3 minutes. In a large pot, add water and salt. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta. Stir occasionally to open all the pasta nests. After the water returns to a boil, cook for 2 to 3 minutes. The pasta will continue to cook after it is drained, so taste it often. Remove and drain while it is still a little undercooked. Toss into your sauce.
If you have any questions, or need more tips, please contact us at (847) 432-5459 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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