Usually, cooking pasta involves boiling some water and throwing in the entire bag of pasta for however long the package recommends. After, we usually strain out our pasta and discard the water. Then, our pasta is served with whatever sauce is on the menu.
This may work for most people, but the true Italian way to cook pasta is better in every way. And, as you’ll find out in this blog, cooking pasta the Italian way doesn’t require much more effort than how most people do it. While there are a few additional steps, cooking pasta the Italian way produces a much superior product to other methods.
Here, we will break down the basics of cooking pasta like an Italian, including what to do with long pasta pieces, how to properly boil the pasta, how to tell when it’s done, and what you should actually do with your leftover pasta water.
Never Break up Longer Pastas
The first rule of cooking pasta like an Italian is to never break up long pieces of pasta that don’t fit in your pot.
Breaking up pasta compromises the texture and eating ability of longer kinds of pasta. Long pasta like spaghetti is designed to be very long in order to pick up more sauce than other pasta shapes. Breaking spaghetti ruins this.
Instead, simply place your long pasta in your boiling water with the tops sticking out. After just one or two minutes, the bottom of the pasta will soften enough so that you can gently push down the tops of the pasta into the boiling water.
Make Sure the Water is Really Boiling
This may sound like a no-brainer, but one key to cooking pasta like a true Italian is making sure that your water is really boiling. Unfortunately, too many people throw the package of pasta in while the water is at a mere simmer.
Before placing your pasta into the water, make sure that you can see large, rolling bubbles on the surface of your water. The water should be moving around in the pot — this is essential to ensuring that your pasta doesn’t get stuck together while cooking. In addition, properly boiling water will help make the starch inside the pasta much more palatable and digestible.
Add in Salt AFTER the Water is Boiling, and Not Too Much
Those who want to put a little extra effort into their pasta are usually told to make the pasta water “salty like the sea” before adding in the pasta. Salting the water is a vital step. But when to add the salt and how much to add is often misunderstood by non-Italians.
Salt should only be added to pasta water that is already boiling. This both helps the salt properly dissolve (helping to flavor your pasta) and actually raises the temperature of your water slightly.
In order to achieve water that is “salty as the sea,” many people will dump large quantities of salt into pasta water. This is not the correct Italian way. For one pound of pasta, Italian recipes recommend adding only one tablespoon of salt.
Taste to Test if the Pasta is Done
It seems like almost everyone’s parents told them that you could either throw pasta against a wall to see if it is ready, break it in half, or squeeze it. None of these methods are sanctioned by Italians.
The only real way to check if your pasta is ready is by tasting it. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, take out one or two pieces of pasta and try them.
Cook Your Pasta Al Dente
Italians believe that pasta should always be “al dente,” which roughly translates to “firm in the bite.” When you bite into pasta cooked the Italian way, the pasta should be soft enough that you can bite through it without a crunch. However, the pasta should still be very firm.
One Italian trick for determining if pasta is al dente is biting through a piece and examining the bite mark. In the middle, there should be a thin line that is paler than the rest of the pasta. This is known as the “Punto Verde” in Italian.
Reserve Some Pasta Water
The cardinal sin of cooking pasta the Italian way is throwing out all of your pasta water. Once the pasta is finished cooking, remove it from the pot. But do NOT get rid of all the pasta water.
In Italian, pasta water is known as “acqua di cottura.” The starch leftover in this water from the pasta cooking process acts as the perfect binder between pasta and sauce. Saving a cup full of acqua di cottura and adding some into your pasta before serving will greatly enhance the flavor and texture of your pasta dish.
Cooking pasta the Italian way is not much more difficult than how the average person cooks it.
Simply don’t break up longer pieces of pasta, really boil your water, and add in around 1 tbsp of salt after the water is boiling. Then, cook your pasta until it is al dente, and don’t forget to save the magical “acqua di cottura.” Follow these simple steps, and you will be cooking pasta like a true Italian in no time at all!
Hi, I’m Rana and I blog at ranasrecipe.com. My passion for food began very early in my life. And after managing a cafe, a granola business and helping other food businesses scale up, I found my true calling in creating wonderful recipes so that everyone can enjoy cooking as much as I do! Don’t forget to follow me on my social channels- instagram and pinterest.