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Boiling Pasta -- Lesson Five
Cooking pasta (spaghetti, in this case) is easy. But it's also easy to get it wrong, and wind up with a gummy mess.
Here you are going to learn a fool-proof method, and wind up with a nice spaghetti lunch or dinner to boot.
For this lesson, you will need some spaghetti, a pot, water, olive oil, salt, spaghetti sauce, a colander, and, if you want a meal of it, some French bread and Parmesan cheese.
For now, we'll assume you've purchased your favorite brand of bottled spaghetti sauce, but some day you are going to want to make your own homemade sauce.
Pasta needs to be cooked just right, or, as they say in Italy, al dente, pronounced "all dontay". Al dente is Italian for "when you chew it, it is not too soft and not too hard, but just right, the way Baby Bear would want it". Italian is a very efficient language.
You can buy fresh or dried pasta. The most common is dried, but if you buy fresh, it will not take as long to cook. So use the same method, but adjust the time. The package directions will be your guide.
How much to cook? You usually wind up with more pasta than you expect, because it expands some as it cooks. You can buy gauges, and in some cases gauges are included in the handle of the spaghetti server, as shown in the photo on the left. (You can click on the photo to see a larger version.)
I've laid some coins next to the server to give you an idea of the size. The smallest hole in the handle is for one serving, and the others are for two, three, and four. Notice that the area of the small hole is about the same area as the quarter in the photo. So 25 cents per serving is about right...
Here I'm using the measure to get one serving of spaghetti. As you'll see, this turns out fine.
Fill a sauce pan about 2/3 full of water, and put it on the stove on a medium high setting. Drizzle some olive oil into the water, and sprinkle it lightly with salt. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti gradually, with the strands separated, like in the top photo. This lets each strand pick up a little oil, which helps keep the pasta from sticking together.
Boil the spaghetti about ten minutes, stirring now and then to keep the strands apart. After ten minutes, use a fork or spaghetti server to pull out a few strands. Put them on a plate to cool slightly, and taste one. If it's hard and raw, it obviously needs to cook more. When I cooked pasta for these photos, it took about 11-12 minutes to get al dente. The package said eleven minutes, and they were right on.
Dump the pasta and water into the colander and let it drain for a few minutes. Meanwhile, put a half cup or so of sauce into a bowl and nuke it for about 45 seconds.
Slice some French bread, drizzle a little olive oil on it, and spread it around with your finger. Put the spaghetti on the plate, top with sauce and Parmesan cheese. Add garnish, like the Pepperoncini peppers in the photo, if you've got 'em.
Now you've fixed yourself a nice lunch or dinner. Have a glass of wine with it to celebrate!
You can use this method to cook other forms of pasta, as well. The cooking times will vary depending on the size and thickness of the pasta.
If you're not going to serve the noodles right away, like we did in this lesson, you will put the drained pasta back into the warm empty pot. But to keep the pasta from sticking, you will need to add a drizzle of olive oil, OR stir in some butter, OR add a little of the sauce you are going to use. In any case, don't wait too long to serve. Try to time the dinner so the pasta is one of the last things you do.
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