Here’s the lowdown on the myths about pasta! Ignore them and learn the truth. Pasta is so simple – it’s one of the great foods of the world, but it’s also so very easy to end up with a plate of soggy mush instead of delicious, satisfying pasta. If your noodles never turn out the way you want them, maybe you’re believing in pasta myths and using cooking methods no real Italian mama would ever dream of.
1. Oil in the Water
This is one of the most commonly believed myths about pasta. People add some olive oil to the cooking water in the belief it stops the pasta sticking – wrong – it will only make the pasta slippery and the sauce will fall off. Instead, cook in an over generous amount of water.
Don’t drain off all the water until the pasta is steaming and done. If you watch pasta cooks like Jamie Oliver and Ina Garten, you will notice they NEVER drain away all the water. A little water is good for the sauce and sometimes the pasta water is used in the recipe.
Draining is all that is needed for hot pasta to be served with sauce. There is only ever one time that you should rinse pasta and that is if you want to use it cold in a pasta salad. In this case, a quick rinse will wash away any residual starch. You can toss in a little bit of olive oil to prevent it sticking as it cools.
4. Packet Instructions
No packet will ever give you the time for the perfect pasta. The perfect pasta is how you like to eat it whether that’s al dente or (Italians look away now) soft and pappy. The only way to know if your pasta is cooked perfectly is to test a noodle before the end of the time suggested on the packet. And talking of testing pasta to see if it is cooked …
5. Pasta Sticking to the Wall
Do not throw your spaghetti at the wall! The only result is a wall you have to clean. As stated above, taste it to test it. If it’s gummy enough to stick to a wall, it’s probably overcooked.
6. Any Pasta/any Sauce
The types of pasta aren’t just to make food look pretty. You can’t just throw together any pasta with any sauce. The shape and size of pasta is a crucial choice. A meaty sauce should not be paired with a delicate pasta – fusili or rigatoni is best – the shape and ridges are designed for the sauce to cling to the noodles. Lighter sauces work best with linguine and angel hair pasta. This seriously awesome chart from chow.com guides you through matching sauce to pasta shape.
7. Fresh is Better
This is simply not true. Fresh pasta is different to dried pasta – not better. Fresh pasta takes less time to cook, and is silkier and softer. It should be used with sauces that work well with it. Of course you have to use fresh to make ravioli but have you ever tried to make a Mac and Cheese with fresh pasta – uh no!
8. It’s All about the Sauce
Most non-Italian pasta eaters have the habit of piling on the sauce, drowning the pasta. When I lived in Italy, the first time I served pasta for the family I was horrified by the pasta sauce ratio. The sauce is meant to emphasize and enhance the creamy pasta not overwhelm it.
9. Pasta Makes You Fat
No it doesn’t. The amount you eat and the sauce you pile on it is what makes you fat. Apply portion control and you can eat pasta – and rich sauce – as part of a healthy balanced diet. Eat pasta in moderation and you can enjoy its carbs, fiber and nutrients.
I love pasta and I’m very happy I learned how to cook and serve it properly in Italy. Are you now going to change the way you cook and eat pasta?