The Top 20 Crimes Against Pasta
Because cooking techniques tend to be passed down through generations, various myths and miscommunications inevitably build up.
In the case of pasta, some outrageous theories have been allowed to rumble on unchallenged - so here we're picking them apart, blow by blow.
1.) Choosing the cheap stuff
Everyone loves saving on their grocery bill, but we always recommend opting for the premium pasta if your budget allows. The ingredients won't necessarily be better, but the pricier stuff will almost always have been made with superior equipment which ensures the sauce sticks to the pasta better.
2.) Thinking that fresh is better than dried
We know that fresh is king in virtually all areas of food, but dried pasta is not necessarily worse than fresh, it's just different. We generally prefer the texture of dried linguine to its fresh counterpart, whilst we wouldn't be seen dead buying dried tortellini.
3.) Not measuring how much pasta you're using
Little pasta shapes like orzo can be cooked, chilled and added to salads with great results, but once you've mixed your pesto with your pasta, there's no going back. You can refrigerate those leftovers and they'll be perfectly safe to eat the next day, but reheated pasta is never as good as its freshly prepared counterpart. Make sure you're cooking 75g of pasta per person and you won't end up with loads of leftover pasta to throw away.
4.) Choosing the size of your pot for the wrong reasons
Traditional wisdom - words of which you still find all over the Internet - is to use the largest pot you can find and cook your noodles in the largest amount of water possible. The reasoning is that smaller pans will take longer to get back to a rolling boil, your pasta will cook unevenly, become sticky and be overly starchy. Every single one of these myths has been debunked by J. Kenji López-Alt in his seminal book, The Food Lab. So, moving forward, use however much water you want. For what it's worth, we favour less over more.
5.) Not salting your pasta water
Under-salting your pasta water (or worse still, not salting it at all) is considered the most heinous of crimes among Italian cooks. Pasta naturally doesn't contain salt, so it's important to season it through the cooking process or your dish is going to be disappointingly bland. We opt for a 0.5% salt-to-water ratio but everyone has their own preference. There is however, one myth that has got to go, however poetic or romantic it may sound. Pasta that has been cooked in water "as salty as the sea" is vile.
6.) Blindly following what your pack of pasta tells you
We never look at the "instructions" on our packs of dried or fresh pasta. Most of the time the advice is way off the mark and we much prefer trusting our intuition.
7.) Adding pasta to the water too early
Don't be tempted to try and speed up your dinner by adding your pasta to the pot before the water has come to a rolling boil. Those effervescent bubbles are your secret weapon to ensuring your pasta cooks without sticking or settling on the bottom.
8.) Over or under cooking your pasta
Al dente ("to the tooth") is what everyone is encouraged to aim for when cooking pasta. It basically means your pasta still has some resistance and is neither crunchy nor soft. We leave these rules at the door. We eat our pasta at whatever texture we feel like.
9.) Not stirring your pasta regularly
There's nothing more disappointing than having your lovely pasta ribbons stick together like glue. Avoid this by keeping the water moving, especially in the first couple of minutes.
10.) Adding oil to the water
We've no idea where this ridiculous recommendation came from but it has been proved time and time again that's it's completely unnecessary. It's true that coating your pasta in a little bit of oil after cooking can help prevent the noodles sticking to each other, but that also means it will stop your sauce sticking to the pasta... pointless!
11.) Throwing pasta against a wall to see if it sticks
Yet another pasta myth that makes absolutely no sense. Is your kitchen wall better at taste-tasting than your own mouth? Trust your abilities - try a little bit and see whether you like the texture. Simple.
12.) Not saving some of the starchy cooking water
As pasta cooks it releases some of its starch, resulting in starch-heavy cooking water by the time your pasta is done. Yes, this water looks slightly murky and unappetising, but it's liquid gold. Add a little of this water to your pesto or pasta sauce and you'll end up with a beautifully silky, emulsified sauce that sticks brilliantly to your pasta.
13.) Rinsing your pasta after cooking
This is another pasta crime that makes us face-plant. Why on earth would you do this? Starch is your friend, so why are you getting rid of it?
14.) Snapping spaghetti in half
We know that when you put spaghetti in a pot of boiling water the pasta is half in and half out. People therefore think that their spaghetti is going to be cook unevenly so they snap their pasta in half. In reality it only takes about 20 seconds for your spaghetti to have given up some resistance for you to get the whole lot submerged. Most importantly of all though, spaghetti is the length it is for a very good reason. Try twirling your half-length spaghetti around your fork and having a satisfying mouthful. Chances are you won't. Want short pasta? Buy short pasta.
15.) Pairing your sauce with the wrong shape
We're more relaxed about shape-pairings than many foodies, but it is true that using different pasta shapes for pesto than you do with tomato-based sauces will make a very tangible difference to the overall enjoyment of your meal.
16.) Cooking different shapes or brands in the same pot
We're ashamed to admit that - as broke students - if we found we didn't have enough pasta left in our already open bag, we'd open a new bag and mix them together to save those all-important pennies. We may not even have mixed the same brand let alone the same shape. Suffice to say the results were appalling, with half our supper tough and the other half mushy. We feel miserable just thinking about it.
17.) Serving pasta with too much sauce
However much you love your favourite pesto or pasta sauce, drowning your pasta in sauce is downright uncouth. Period.
18.) Plonking the sauce on top rather than intermixing
Admittedly we don't see this much nowadays, but if you look at stock images of pasta you'll often find a big bowl of pasta with a dollop of sauce on top. Please, stir the sauce through.
19.) Leaving your pasta standing around
In most scenarios, pasta should be served immediately. Letting it sit around will not only lead to a lukewarm meal but will increase the chances of the pasta sticking. You also want the pasta to be hot enough to slightly melt the Parmesan you're about to grate on top. You are about to do that, right?
20.) Using pre-grated cheese
This one's simple... pre-grated cheeses are gross. They start losing their flavour as soon as they are grated and producers prevent the cheese from clumping by adding all kinds of nasties. Just grate the cheese yourself, it really isn't any great hardship.