Cooking Pasta: Do's and Don'ts

Recently I was invited to a friend's house for a get-together. The guests were invited to bring different dishes and the theme was Italian.

Before hand, he said she wanted to make red sauce, but also wanted pesto for her teen son, who is crazy about it. I volunteered to bring some, because I had fresh basil in my garden.

When I arrived, everything was ready, other people had brought a great array of foods, and it all smelled delicious. She hadn't yet cooked the pasta; she was waiting for everyone to arrive.

She had the water on already, in a humongous pot, on a burner that did not give out much heat -- for a couple pounds of pasta.

After 20 minutes everyone was there, but the pasta water was nowhere near boiling. I asked my friend if I could take over, and she agreed.

I transferred some of the simmering water from the large pot into a smaller one, covered it, put it on a larger burner, turned the heat on high and waited until it came to a rolling boil.

I put in two pounds of pasta, stirred it right away, added some salt, and covered it until it came back to a rolling boil. Uncovered it as it was about to boil over, stirred it again, turned the heat down just a little, and let it cook uncovered at a fast boil, stirring frequently and tasting for tenderness.

Then we drained it, divided it onto two platters, and covered one with red sauce and the other with pesto.

Needless to say, it went so fast that we had to cook more. Fortunately, we had sauces in abundance.

Here are the Key Points to Cooking Pasta

  • Cooking pasta does not require as much water as many people think. About 3 to 4 quarts of water for a pound of pasta is more than sufficient. If you are cooking two pounds of pasta, don't double the amount of water; rather, add half the amount (5 to 6 quarts).

  • Do not put oil in the water. It does not prevent the pasta from sticking -- this is a myth, and the oil causes the sauce to slide off the pasta.
  • Don't add pasta until the water is at a rolling boil. Add the salt to the water along with the pasta. Stir immediately and frequently at first to prevent sticking.
  • Bring it back to a rolling boil as soon as possible by keeping the pot covered and the heat on high, but don't let it boil over. When the boiling water starts to rise, uncover the pot and stir. Turn the heat to medium-high, then finish cooking to the desired doneness.
  • Do drain the pasta immediately after it's done. The easier way is to use a colander. Using forks or other utensils also works, but be sure to drain it well so the sauce won’t be watery.

I understand that not everyone likes their pasta "al dente", but there is a point when it is done before it becomes MUSHY (and if you ever had pasta at a restaurant you'll know exactly what I mean).

For those who prefer their pasta cooked past al dente, be careful not to overcook it; the taste will change.

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

5 garlic cloves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. spaghetti

Salt and freshly grated pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Set a 5-quart pot of water on high heat to boil. Meanwhile, peel and mince the garlic. Place it in a small saucepan along with the oil and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes or until the garlic is barely gold. Add a little salt and pepper, turn off the heat, and set aside.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, put in the spaghetti and the salt, stir immediately, and cook according to the directions of the package or as preferred. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a serving bowl, pour the garlic and oil mixture over the top, stir and serve immediately with grated cheese.

This is a family favorite; it's quick, and garlic and olive oil are always on hand in an Italian household. On many occasions when we got home late and hungry, we made spaghetti aglio e olio and served it with cheeses and sausages.

Website News:

My recipe for ALBACORE in PUTTANESCA SAUCE was featured on the front of the recipe section at - it's best made with fresh or frozen albacore loins, but can also be made with solid-pack canned tuna.

A similar recipe from Los Angeles Times' food editor Russ Parsons made the list of the Top Times Recipes of 2008.

The Brick Oven

Cooking Pasta

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