When it comes to quick family meals, nothing beats pasta. When I’m not in the mood for cooking, but prefer to serve something homemade rather than resorting to takeout, pasta is almost always the answer. The ingredients are always in the house, and it is a fast, easy and nutritious dish, especially if you use whole-wheat pasta, and sauces (homemade or store bought) that contain tomatoes and olive oil.
How to cook pasta? Ignore the directions on the package! They’re useful for getting a general idea of how long you should cook the pasta, but you should never rely on them, or you’ll almost always end up with overcooked pasta.
How to cook pasta:
1. Use a large pot. The larger the better – pasta sticks when cooked in too little water.
2. Once the water comes to a boil, salt it generously – use 2 tablespoons of salt for a package (1 pound) of pasta. Salt makes pasta taste better.
3. Add the pasta to the boiling water, all at once. Gently stir the pasta right after you add it, and then periodically throughout the cooking time to prevent clumping and sticking.
4. Start timing when the water returns to a boil. Most pastas cook in 8-12 minutes, but some thin pastas such as angel hair cook in just 3-4 minutes. Test for doneness about 2 minutes before the time given on the package instructions. The only way to tell if the pasta is done is to taste it. Pasta should be ‘al dente’ – firm, yet chewy. If it’s too hard, cook for one more minute, then taste again.
5. As soon as the pasta is done, pour a glass of cold water into the pot to stop the cooking process. Drain the pasta into a colander and shake off the excess water. Do NOT rinse the cooked pasta. Transfer to a bowl, add the sauce, stir and serve immediately.
My favorite pasta sauce is the simplest olive oil and garlic sauce. It contains about half a cup of high quality, extra virgin olive oil (for 1 pound of dry pasta), 2 garlic cloves that are peeled, sliced and cooked in the oil until golden, about a teaspoon of salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper.