Tips for making pasta perfect

Dry or fresh, penne or linguine, salt or oil ... pasta is a store cupboard favourite but there are a few tips to take your next dish from the everyday to the sublime.

There is nothing quite as comforting as a piping hot bowl of pasta. It is the perfect store cupboard ingredient that can hide in the back of your pantry for months, waiting to be pulled out and transformed from the everyday to the sublime.

There are no boundaries with pasta – it can accompany most ingredients without overwhelming them.

The only issues that should be considered are which shape to match with which sauce and whether to use fresh or dry pasta (see our tips below). As with all things culinary, don’t get too caught up in the rules and just let your tastebuds be the guide.

Cooking tips

Avoid sticky, gluggy pasta by cooking pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water (5-6 litres of water to every 500 grams of pasta). Also, don’t forget to give the pasta a good stir during the first couple of minutes of cooking. One thing to remember: the larger the pot, the quicker the pasta will return to the boil - this will help to avoid the pasta sticking together.

How to know when your pasta is ready

The Italians serve their pasta al dente (literally “to the tooth”), perfectly cooked pasta should provide a little resistance when you chew.

The only way to tell is to taste the pasta as you cook it – don’t rely on the packet instructions!

Serving pasta

Do not rinse your pasta if you are planning to serve it hot, as this will cool the pasta and remove the last remnants of starch - which helps your sauce to stick.

When you drain the pasta try to reserve a little of the starchy cooking liquid – this can be added to the sauce to help loosen the consistency if necessary.

Add your pasta to the sauce (not the other way around) while it is hot.

Shapes and flavours

Logic is key in dictating which pasta shape should be paired with which sauce.

Thin, delicate pasta shapes are lovely combined with thinner, delicate sauces.

Tubular or irregular shaped pastas are designed to let the sauce get caught inside. Thus they are best with chunky or thick sauces.

Small pasta shapes, such as risoni, are great in soups, and smaller-scale versions of many shapes.such as macaroni, are lovely in salads.

Fresh vs. dry

Similarly to pasta shapes, the choice between fresh and dry pasta is more about matching flavours and textures than about which is superior.

Fresh pasta is made with eggs and flour and is generally more delicate. It is better used when making delicate sauces at home, but is also a must if you want to make your own tortellini, ravioli or lasagne. 

There are some brilliant dried pastas available. Look for dried pasta made with durum wheat, preferably run through a bronze die machine – the traditional bronze die creates a slightly rough texture, helping sauce to adhere to the pasta.

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