Chef Dez on Cooking: Best pasta results cover all ingredients

In almost every home spaghetti or some form of pasta makes its way to the dinner table on a regular basis.

Many of us take the time to focus on building the flavour and complexity of the accompanying sauce for our pasta of choice, but the pasta itself needs attention, as well.

Many food columns could be dedicated to palate-pleasing pasta sauces, but let us not forget about the substance of these dishes: the pasta noodle. This column will focus on what seems to be one of the simplest tasks in the kitchen: boiling water and cooking pasta.

First, let’s examine the dry pasta noodle and the transformation that takes place in cooking. The cooked pasta is larger in volume, and flexible, compared to dry, raw pasta, because of the absorption of water during boiling.

The cooking process of any food, however simple it seems, needs to be analyzed – this is our chance of infusing flavour into the ingredients being cooked.

Everyone has heard of salting water when boiling pasta, but few realize it is to season the pasta, for more flavour.

Pasta on its own is very bland, and combining bland, cooked pasta with a sauce that you have perfected will be a detriment to your finished dish.

If the pasta water is salted liberally, the pasta absorbs saltwater, instead of just water, seasoning your dish from the inside out.

Do not add oil to your pasta water. It will affect your finished dish negatively.

Oiled pasta water will help to keep your pasta from sticking together when cooking, but a film of oil will always be left on the drained noodles.

That thin film of oil will inhibit the starchiness of the cooked pasta, and in turn, it will prevent your accompanying sauce from sticking to or absorbing into the noodles as much.

When you are eating your pasta you want the starchiness of the pasta to hold onto the sauce as much as possible, so that the dish will be able to be enjoyed to the fullest.

That having been said, drained cooked pasta should not be oiled for the same reason.

A better way to help prevent your pasta noodles from sticking together during the cooking process is to stir the noodles constantly for the first two minutes of cooking time. By that point, the water will have returned to its full-boil action, and the agitation of the bubbling water will keep the pasta moving and prevent it from sticking.

Once the pasta has been drained, do not rinse it. Rinsing will cool the pasta down, and will also wash away some of the surface starchiness that we want to help secure the sauce to the noodles.

Homemade “spaghetti” is a very common dish in many households.

Whether you use spaghetti, linguine, or other types of noodles, I hope these few simple recommendations will help to make your meal more enjoyable and flavourful.

Dear Chef Dez:

What is the best way to tell when pasta is cooked?

Norma L., Maple Ridge

Dear Norma,

There are many ways that people use to determine that pasta is cooked to perfection – including the old wives’ tale about throwing it against the wall, and if it sticks, it’s done.

The best way is to let your mouth do the talking.

Carefully remove a strand or piece of pasta from the boiling water. After waiting a few seconds for it to cool down, take a bite.

It should feel “el dente,” which is Italian for, “to the tooth.”

It  relates to the feeling that the pasta should not be overcooked and offer some resistance when biting into it. It should not be hard, but it should not be too soft and mushy, either.

The package of the pasta you purchase will offer a guideline cooking time, but your bite will always give you the right answer.

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