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How to Boil Water, Cook Pasta, Make Friends and Influence People

Vintage style halftone illustration of boiling water.

I can't guarantee the part about making friends and influencing people... but if you know how to make perfect pasta and fresh sauce, it's not too much of a stretch

Follow these easy steps and you can make restaurant quality pasta at home

  • Always start with cold water: Even modern constructed buildings use pipes that contain lead.  Running hot water through the pipes softens the metal and possibly allows trace amounts of lead to leech into the water.  It's microscopic but better safe than sorry.  That's why we use cold water.
  • Always boil an entire pot of water, even when only cooking 1 or 2 portions, and to a "rolling" boil.  When you add pasta to the water, even in small amounts, it sucks heat out of the water into the pasta. You want to maintain the boil as much as possible to maintain an even cooking temperature
  • Salt the water generously and when you begin heating.  People say adding the salt raises the boiling temperature, which is a good thing. Whether or not this is true, I don't know. But this is how my grandmother did it.  What I do know is that salting the water from the beginning imparts flavor into the pasta while cooking. You want the water to taste like the sea. Don't worry about the added salt. In the end, it's negligible.
  • Don't EVER cover the pot to "make it boil quicker!"  Why?  I don't know. That's just the way you do it.  That's how my grandma did it... and you don't want to argue with her.  Also, she's dead.  You really want to disrespect the dead like that?
  • DON'T EVER ADD OIL TO THE PASTA WATER.  "What the hell is wrong with you??? Get over here and I'll give you a whack with the wooden spoon.  Stoonad!"
    Adding oil to the pasta water means a layer of oil will coat all your pasta and nothing; no sauce, no spices, no cheese will stick to the pasta when you mix it together. It's pretty much the worst thing you can do to your pasta
  • Always Al Dente. Don't overcook the pasta. Even if the box says "10 minutes for al dente", don't believe them. Cool the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than whatever the box says for "al dente" It's real easy, and tastier, to cook the sauce and pasta together for a couple minutes extra. It's impossible to "un-cook" overdone pasta.  Uggg... mushy overcooked pasta.  Gross.
  • ALWAYS add a little bit of pasta water to the sauce / pasta mixture. The starch that's released into the water when boiling helps everything (the sauce and the meat and the veggies and/or cheese)  bind together. It's the opposite effect of adding oil to the water. That's why restaurant pasta is so good.  They have a giant pot of starch-laden water always boiling.  I've even heard of Italian families keeping the pasta water to use the next day. Some people have water that dates back decades. Kinda like a bread starter. If you're gonna be making more pasta the same week, you can save the pasta water in the fridge. Your sauces will thank you.
  • Pro-tip: Wanna starch up you pasta water quick? Add some dried pasta to the water while it comes to a boil and fish it out before you drop what you're cooking for dinner. If you have udon noodles handy, use those. They're extra starchy.

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