I recently went on a trip to the World Pasta Championships in Parma, Italy, all courtesy of Barilla pasta, the biggest pasta company in the world - and I saw a lot of pasta, essentially. I looked at it, smelled it, tasted it and talked about it - I learned things about pasta that you never thought you’d learn. Because to me, pasta was pasta - stick it in hot water, coat it in pesto, Bob’s your Anglo-Italian uncle. Pasta was uni. Pasta was Lloyd Grossman. Pasta was bloody pasta.
But seeing where it all came from made me realise that I was sort of insulting pasta - I was taking the piss a bit. Chucking half a pot of sauce over it, punting in a chopped up Peperami and then drenching it (and I mean DRENCHING it) in cheddar - it’s not the way to do it, actually. Over here in the UK, we’re doing it massively wrong, and doing it right makes all the difference. Do it the traditional way, the proper way, and you’re in for one of those ‘mouth-orgasms’ you may or may not have heard about.
And I’m also talking about dry pasta here. There’s a myth that fresh pasta is better, but really, it’s not. It’s on par - you just use each type in different situations, and many top chefs use the dry stuff on a regular (most likely Barilla, if you’re asking).
But how can you do it yourself? How can you escape the dungeon of I-don’t-give-a-shit pasta? Well, it’s easy - just stop making the following mistakes…
1. You’re using a tiny little pot, aren’t you?
You need a hefty size on your kitchen implements here - the pasta needs to be swimming in water, and if you’re using a poxy little pan filled with a shallow puddle of nothing, your pasta’s gonna cook unevenly and taste all over the shop. Keep it even, keep it tasty.
2. You’re chucking the pasta in the water before it’s boiled, you crazy cat
You’ve got to get that water boiling first. For best results pour cold water in and bring it to the boil from scratch.
3. You’re holding back on the salt, you frigid
Really, the only chance you get to season the actual pasta itself is when you put the salt in the water. If you’re using about 100g of dry pasta, you want about a litre of water, and then a perfect amount of salt to bung in is 7g. And chuck it in just as the water starts to boil. You’re a salty fellow, act like one.
4. For some stupid reason, you’re chucking oil in the water
Some people say it stops the water boiling over, but it actually just creates a load of slimy worms and stops the sauce from sticking to the pasta. It’s a weird habit and you need to put it in the bin with the rest of them.
5. You’re stirring it like a maniac
If you’ve got a good quality pasta, there’s a low release of starch so it’s not going to stick. If you bang in a big spoon and stir like a witch over a cauldron then you’re gonna smush it all up. Leave it alone, or at least be gentle (bit of stirring at the beginning, basically).
6. You’re cooking it for too long, wise up
This is the biggest mistake, and the one I was making every time I ate my pesto mulch. You want to be draining the pasta when it’s al dente - so basically, when it’s still a little bit hard. For spaghetti this is about seven minutes, but it will differ for other shapes and sizes (it should hopefully tell you on the pack). This is so when you start to cook it in the sauce, it doesn’t overcook (it’s also better for you this way - it’s metabolised slower and therefore makes you feel fuller).
7. You’re chucking all the cooking water down the drain, stupid
Keep some of that salty water to add to the sauce. It helps loosen whatever you’re adding to the pasta and makes it easier to mix. In fact, you can chuck your pasta into another pan with only a few ladles of cooking water if you’ve got enough seasoning in there - the pasta will absorb the flavour fantastically. Lots of garlic, bit of chili, couple of prawns, dash of olive oil - there’s your uncle again. Hello uncle!
8. You’re rinsing that pasta to kingdom come
You don’t have to do this once you’ve drained it - in fact, it’s a bad idea because it removes the light starch coating on the pasta. You need that there to help the sauce stick.
9. You’re eating it too quickly, you anaconda
PLEASE, ENJOY THAT JUICY JUICY DOUGH, LET THOSE EYES FULLY FOLD BACK INTO THE INSIDE OF YOUR HEAD, MOAN LIKE A HIPPO, ENTER A HIGHER PLANE.
So there you go: essentially, you’re now a genius pasta chef. Take this advice and trust me, you will notice a massive difference. Go forth and suck that spaghetti up, suck it up like vacuum cleaner specifically engineered for flour, water and eggs. Go wild.
A single strand of spaghetti is called a spaghetto. Consider your mind blown.