Do you struggle with pasta?
I mean, do you go out to the best Italian restaurant in the city, order the most magnificent plate of pasta and then think “I can totally do this at home!!”??
I know, I know…most of us say this at one time or another!!
So you go home and you google “how to make fresh pasta”…and then you attempt it. But, let me just give you a fair warning…
I always tell people, making fresh pasta is like making homemade bread and homemade pie crust…people who are really good at it have been doing it for a very long time!
My friend Ema, has been teaching pasta making at George Brown College for a while now and she is a pro at making fresh past. I spent a day with her (which you can read about here) and, even though I’ve been teaching cooking classes for a long time, she taught me a thing or two about the process of making fresh pasta!
So, having said that, you need to practice before the pasta is great (not to say that the first time you make it, it won’t be “good”, but you will notice that it gets better with each attempt and you will get to know how the dough feels between your fingers when it is ready to roll).
But, once you get the pasta making down (or you just know which dry pastas to buy…more about that later), here are a few tips on making that bowl of pasta amazing:
1. Use a big enough pot…
I know, for many of you, this may seem silly. But, I have been in people’s kitchen where they will cook an entire pound of linguine in a pot that would heat up a cup of soup. You need to make sure, not only that you have enough water to cover the pasta when it’s done (understanding it increases in volume when it’s cooked), but also that it will have enough room to “move around’ in the pot as it cooks…remember it needs enough room to “dance” while it’s cooking!!
2. Salting the water properly…
Whenever I’m teaching, I always say, “the water should taste like the sea”…that’s assuming you have all had a tumble in the sea and have taken in a gulp or two to know what that tastes like…I have!
At home, I always stick my finger in the water (yes, right into the boiling water…I have iron fingers!) but if you’re cooking for a crown or company, taste it with a spoon. Does it taste like the sea? Perfect! Now, you are good to go!!
I’ve had people argue about not salting water. “I’m cutting back on salt” they say. “I’ll just put more salt in my sauce” they say. Well, no matter how you cut it, you will never get that seasoned taste back in the dish…no matter how much you salt your sauce. Take it from a culinary student who tried to tell her master chef professor that we didn’t need to add so much salt in everything (imagine!?!?). Salt is what enhances the flavour of the entire dish (even salt in brownies intensifies the chocolate)…that is salt’s job! And don’t worry about your salt intake…only 3% is absorbed by the pasta. Just don’t put the salt shaker on the table – that insults the chef!
There is also an old wives tale that says salting the water makes the pasta cook faster. That one, people, is not true. But, as a flavour enhancers, please salt your water.
3. If you’re not making your own, use a good quality pasta…
My go-to dry pastas are always De Cecco and Barilla. You can find them in most grocery stores and they cook up perfectly. You can always buy no name and bargain brands, but I find that they are always gummy and they just don’t cook up to an al dente pasta. I might be wrong though…so if you have a brand that you like, let me know in the comments below!
4. Always remember to save a good amount of pasta water…
Before you dump it, save about 2 cups of the pasta water because you will need it for later (always, always save water when you are making a pasta dish without a true “sauce”….the pasta water is like gold!). It is flavoured/salted so it will taste better than plain water and it has all the starches that have leached from the pasta during cooking so it will be glossy and lovely – way better than plain water. And why would you need water after the dish is done? If you have leftovers from this dish and you put it in the fridge until the next day, it will be glorious if you put it back in a pan, add some of the cooking water and reheat it…sometimes it’s actually better the next day (just be careful to only warm to heat and not “cook” it).
Okay, so now that you know the ins and outs of a great plate of pasta, go ahead and put on a pot. Cook up a batch (you can try this recipe for this super fast spring pasta or this shrimp linguini!! Go on…make me proud!!!