So you’ve just finished a batch of perfectly pressed tortelloni, or treated yourself to some of our world-famous mafalde. Don’t let your hard work go to waste! Fresh, restaurant-quality pasta deserves restaurant-quality cooking after all. From how to cook pasta al-dente, to the perfect serving style, here’s our fool-proof guide on how long to cook fresh pasta… Satisfaction guaranteed.
How to Cook Fresh Pasta Al Dente
Ask any chef, pasta puritan, or pastaio (a particularly fancy word for an expert pasta maker) how pasta should be cooked and you’re likely to receive the same response: al dente. And whilst this might seem like a cryptic culinary code for pasta perfection, it encapsulates everything we think pasta ought to be… But what exactly does al dente mean?
Literally meaning ‘to the tooth’, al dente refers to cooked pasta which is still firm when bitten. What’s key here is ‘still’. We want to avoid overcooking the pasta at all costs. Firm, yet tender. A middle ground, if you like. It should offer slight resistance ‘to the tooth’, but only enough to ensure a subtle and pleasantly chewy bite.
But how, exactly, does one achieve this seemingly elusive feat? Rather than leaving it to guesswork – an ill-advised strategy that’s sure to disappoint not only yourself but those you’re cooking for- we’ve devised this simple, step-by-step process for pasta perfection.
Our Foolproof Guide to Cooking Fresh Pasta
Without any further ado, let’s get the ball rolling…
1. Wait for the Water to Reach a Rolling Boil
Tempting though it may be, tossing your pasta in the pot at the first available opportunity isn’t entirely the smartest of choices. When it comes to cooking pasta, what we’re after isn’t a mere simmer, but rather a rolling boil. The point to be reinforced here is rolling. Meaning, movement across the whole surface of the water; the kind that produces large, visible bubbles. This vigorous type of boil not only ensures a more even cooking process but it also helps to achieve a uniform consistency. Patience is key here, but it certainly doesn’t come without reward… Good things come to those who wait after all…
Chef Carmelo’s Tip: Cover the pot, but be sure to leave a partial opening. Not only does this help the water to reach a boil faster, but the opening allows you to hear the rumble of the rolling boil, an indication that you’ve been patient enough and that it’s time to start cooking!
2. Don’t Hold Back on the Salt
Salted water helps to flavour the pasta as it absorbs the salt from the water during the cooking process. It’s crucial, however, that the salt is added only once the water has reached a boil. Adding salt on a simmer will only cause unnecessary delay to the cooking process given that salted water takes longer to reach boiling point.
With regards to how much salt to add, Italian-born food writer Anna del Conte suggests 10g (2tsp) per litre of water, or as she rather poetically states, ‘the water should be as salty as the Mediterranean’. In short, copious amounts make for well-seasoned and flavourful pasta.
3. Don’t Forget to Stir
Once submerged in the water, immediately begin to stir the pasta, as well as at regular intervals throughout. This helps to avoid each individual piece from clumping together or sticking to the side of the pot. Whilst there are those that advocate the use of oil here, we personally wouldn’t recommend it. A much easier solution is just to make sure you’re using a large enough pot, one that easily fits your precious cargo without the risk of over-boiling.
4. Timing and Testing
One of fresh pasta’s many virtues – besides taste and texture – is its extremely short cooking time. Fresh pasta – both filled and non-filled – almost never exceeds 4 minutes of actual cooking time. Its dried – and indubitably inferior – counterpart can, in many cases, exceed 15 minutes of cooking time.
It is, of course, worth bearing in mind that whilst indicated cooking times are a useful guideline, they are just that: approximations. And, in most cases, these approximations result in slightly overcooked pasta. What most fail to take into consideration is the fact that the pasta undergoes further cooking when mixed with a saucy partner.
Understanding when pasta is cooked al dente is a matter of tasting it for yourself! Having spoken to our executive chef, Carmelo, we recommend tasting fresh pasta around 2 minutes before the indicated cooking time to check if it is al dente. This should be done at least 3 times to make an accurate and informed judgement on the matter. This is pasta we’re talking about after all, and deserves all the attention it gets!
Whilst ‘al dente’ is what we’re ultimately after, it is important to make the distinction between non-filled (shapes like spaghetti, bucatini) and filled pasta (ravioli, tortelloni). With non-filled pasta, we ideally want as close to ‘al dente’ as we can get. With filled pastas and gnocchi, this isn’t so important. You’ll know when filled pastas are ready when they begin to float to the top. Similarly, if the filled pasta ruptures and the contents empty into the pasta water, you’ll know you’ve overcooked it. With the non-filled variety, you’ll have to be savvy with your teeth and test as you go along.
5. Carefully Drain, Sauce and Serve
When draining, it’s crucial you retain some of the cooking water. As pasta cooks its releases starch into the surrounding water. Which is, as far as we’re concerned, absolute gold! The starchy pasta water acts as both a thickener and an emulsifying agent, allowing the two liquids (the sauce and the salty water) to put aside their differences and enter into a harmonious – and ever so flavoursome – symbiosis. It enhances the overall flavour and helps to achieve a wonderful creamy texture and consistency for your sauce. In terms of how much pasta water to keep? Keep at least a half a cup, and add more if necessary. The choice, of course, is entirely yours.
Once you’ve achieved your ideal sauce consistency, proceed with the last remaining steps swiftly. Pasta cools rapidly, and as it cools, it begins to stick together. It should come as good news, however, that preventing this sticky affair is easy. Drain, sauce, serve and eat within moments of the time your pasta leaves the pot. Besides, we’re guessing your ability to resist temptation is long gone by now…
All that remains now is to put all this new-found knowledge to the test, and with 10% off your first fresh pasta recipe box, practising has never been easier. Use code BLOG10 at checkout.