FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions: Find quick answers to everyday pasta questions here.
- What does al dente mean?
Al dente is Italian for "to the tooth". It means that the pasta still has a bit of a bite to it (not mushy). This is the ideal texture for pasta. Keep in mind that pasta continues to cook a bit as it drains and when added to sauces, especially if combined with the sauce in a hot pan. If your pasta is to be cooked again (baked, stuffed shells, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, etc.) you will want to undercook it slightly.
- SEE ALSO: How to Cook Pasta (2:21 min video)
- SEE ALSO: Pasta - How to Cook it - The Pasta Channel (12:44 min video
- How much water do I need for a pound of pasta?
- Use at least 4 quarts (liters) of water in a deep pot for a pound of dry pasta. If using a pasta pot with a built-in strainer, add a bit extra as the strainer itself takes up a few inches. Remember that some of the smaller pasta (orzo, stellini, etc.) expands quite a bit when cooked so allow sufficient water for the pasta to move around and stir often.
- Do I fill the pot with hot or cold water?
I use cold water personally but there is a wide variety of opinions on this. There are issues of energy efficiency, cost of water vs. fuel, water filters, mineral deposits, etc. Some folks say to use cold water as it hasn't been sitting around in pipes or the water heater. Here's a good test...if you can taste the difference in your tea or coffee, then use cold water.
- How much salt do I add?
For every 4 quarts (liters) of water, add a heaping tablespoon of table salt. (Save your good kosher or sea salt for your sauces!) The salt not only flavors the pasta but it raises the boiling point of the water so it cooks better. You may notice the water "surge" when you add the salt.
- When do I add the salt?
Add the salt once the water is at a rolling boil.
- When do I add the pasta?
Add the pasta when the water is at a rolling boil and has been salted. If you add the pasta too soon, it doesn't cook as efficiently and will require a lot more stirring to keep it from sticking. The boiling water helps keep the pasta moving really well so you can focus your efforts on the sauce.
- Why does the pasta stick together in the water and how can I prevent it?
As the pasta starts to heat and absorb moisture, the starches on the surface gelatinize, becoming sticky. If the strands are stuck together when this happens (too little water in the pot, not boiling hard enough or insufficient stirring), they can fuse together. This is particularly problematic for the long, thin strands such as spaghetti, fettuccini, linguini, etc. Best solution? Use LOTS of water, make sure it is at a roiling boil before you add the pasta and stir frequently, especially in the first few minutes of cooking.
- Do I need to add oil to the water?
No. If you have enough water for the pasta to move in, the water is at a rolling boil and you stir occasionally, it will not stick to itself. If you add oil, it prevents the sauce from adhering well once everything is combined. Don't waste your good oil!
- How should I drain the pasta?
Most pasta can be drained through a colander in the sink. Make sure you colander is large enough to handle all the cooked pasta. It's OK to leave a little bit of the pasta water on the pasta as it helps everything blend but not so much that it waters down your dish. You can also use a large pasta pot with a strainer built in. Just carefully lift the strainer and let the water drain out. For fresh pasta or delicate varieties such as ravioli, use a hand-held strainer and remove the pasta directly to your sauce pan. Work quickly so the pasta doesn't overcook.
- Should I rinse the pasta?
Normally, no. The remnants of the starchy pasta water on the pasta will help your sauce adhere better and creates a nice, smooth texture. (see the TIP above). However, if you will be using the pasta in another baked dish (lasagna, baked shells, etc.), you can rinse it gently in cool water to stop the cooking process and cool the pasta so you can handle it more easily. (For lasagna noodles, see TIP below.)
- Should I add oil to the drained pasta?
It is best to combined your hot pasta immediately with your sauce (mix it right in the sauce pan if possible). However, if you will be making a cold pasta salad, you may want to add a little bit of the salad dressing to the pasta and blend gently to prevent it from sticking while you make the dish.
- Can I freeze pasta?
Yes, cook it as directed, combine with your sauce and let cool. Place in an airtight container or cover tightly with foil and freeze. Good for up to 3 months.
- How do I reheat pasta?
For lasagna, take the frozen pan out an hour before cooking. Put the foil-covered pan directly in a hot oven (350 degrees) for 30-40 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Remove the foil, add a bit of grated mozzarella on top and let it finish cooking. It should be brown on top and bubbly around the edges. Let it sit for 15 minutes before serving. Other pasta dishes should be allowed to come to room temperature, then heated in a shallow pan on medium low on the stovetop. Stir gently until just warmed through. Microwaving is fine if that's all that is available but it may overcook the pasta somewhat.
- SEE ALSO: How to Reheat Pasta (video)
- Is Pasta Fattening?
NO! Pasta is a complex carbohydrate and provides a slow release of energy. Combined with lean protein, nutrient-rich herbs, vitamin-rich veggies and anti-oxident tomato sauce, pasta is an excellent choice for balance, healthy diets. Whole wheat pasta adds up to 25% of the recommended daily fiber as well. The sauce on pasta can be fattening however so if you are eating rich, buttery cream sauces or cheese sauces, be careful. Always watch your portion sizes and balance your meal with a healthy green salad.
- SEE ALSO: Article: Is Pasta Healthy or Fattening
- For a quick look at the nutritional profile of cooked pasta, click here.
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