Tips for cooking better pasta
Pasta is an absolute staple in our diets, we have it at least twice a week, and there was a period when we were living off like $800 a month in New York where we ate it every single day because it's pretty much all we could afford, plus Umberto is really good at making it taste fancier than it is. I didn't know to do like any of these before Umberto, even though I cooked pasta all the time, so I am just assuming that lots of other people also don't. If you think they're obvious or you already do them, then well done, good for you, enjoy your pasta, this isn't for you.
🕵️♀️ How to identify good quality pasta
First up, you're going to want to start off with good quality pasta, they aren't expensive and there is really only one thing you need to look out for, really simply, you want it rough. The rougher the pasta the better the sauce can stick to it. Most very cheap pasta will be shiny, meaning the sauce just slips right off them, which isn't what you want. Our go-to brand that you can get in most supermarkets is Dececco, it's pretty much always on offer, and is only maybe 70p ish more expensive than some shiny pasta that's going to do nothing for you.
⏫ Bigger pans and more water
On to cooking! You 100% need a larger pan than you think you do. A little saucepan, where the water and pasta are brimming to the top, is not good, even if you're only making a couple portions. So find your biggest pan, within reason, and fill it with more water than you think you need. You don't want to be just about covering the pasta, you want it fully submerged.
🧂 Salt Salt Salt + Some more salt.
This is cooking water, you don't have to drink it, it won't all end up in your meal, so don't salt it like it will. I always add the amount of salt I feel is reasonable, and then add way more. It won't make your meal salty I promise.
♨️ Boil on the hob.
I know it's quicker to use the kettle, but there is a lot to be said for patience. I think it's one of the biggest factors in what makes Umbertos cooking so much nicer than stuff I have tried to do. I have zero patience, I would add the pasta to the kettle if I could, but I can't, and neither can you, and you should boil your big pan of salty water on the hob.
➕ It's boiling! Add the pasta, forget the lid.
Once its boiled, on the hob, not in the kettle, add your pasta and reduce the heat slightly so you get a steady rolling boil rather than a hard one. 👀 Do not, put that lid back on. Wash it up, put it away.
❌ Stop it Sticking
All you need to do to prevent sticking is to make sure you give it a stir within a minute of adding it to the pan. Also having a bigger pan and more water, as I mentioned above, is going to help prevent any sticking. After the first stir you want to give it a little stir every now and again. You do not need to add oil to the water literally ever, maybe it's what some woman did on Come Dine With Me, but you don't need to.
👩🍳 Keep Testing.
The packet might say 20 minutes, but there is no harm in testing along the way. You don't want overcooked pasta, and you probably do want a snack, so just test it.
⏳ Remove just before it's ready.
You want to remove the pasta from the water a couple minutes before it's fully done. The residual heat will finish cooking it, plus any time it spends in the sauce. Removing it just before will help you avoid overcooking or stickiness. Also try removing it using tongs (for spaghetti etc) or one of those spoons with all the holes for non-noodle shapes. When you drain pasta, all that hot water rushes over it again and can end up overcooking in the colander.
💧 Save that pasta water!
If you're going to drain the pasta, make sure you fill a mug with the cooking water before you do, and then add a little to the sauce. If you're using tongs or a spoon, you will pick up a little water as you go, but can always add more if your sauce needs a little loosening. It makes a big difference, and no it won't be too salty. Add it bit by bit and taste each time until you think it's nice.
I'm only going to say a little about the sauce as this is really about pasta! But the top thing you want to do at this point is, *Gino D'acampo accent* Always add your pasta to the sauce never add your sauce to the pasta! You can check out our Please Don't Buy Dolmio Recipe, which is linked below, for more about how to make a super nice pasta sauce, for less than a jar of pre-made, kind of crap, sauce.