Pasta is the perfect go-to meal whether you’re short on time, sticking to a budget or aren’t that great in the kitchen. After all, what could be easier than boiling some water and pouring in some pasta?
Despite the simplicity and versatility of pasta, there’s a very good chance that you haven’t been cooking it correctly. That is according to food experts who have used science to provide the best tips to use when cooking this staple ingredient.
In order to get the best al dente pasta – which is when it is firm to the bite rather than really hard or a big soggy mess – the American Chemical Society has revealed what you should and shouldn’t be doing when cooking pasta in its newest video.
Its top tips are to add salt to your water to help increase the flavour, which should then be kept at a rolling boil to keep the pasta moving and stop it sticking together. Once your pasta is cooked, the society says to drain it, but avoid rinsing it.
It also seems that the debate over whether or not you should add oil to your pasta when it is cooking has been solved, as the society said that most of the oil will wash away when you drain your pasta. This means that it is unlikely to have any effect on whether your pasta sticks together or how well your sauce sticks to it.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother with the oil if you’re convinced it definitely makes a difference. Although, you might want to try adding a splash once the pasta has been drained instead, as this will definitely stay on it and could lead to a better flavour depending on the oil you use.
One of the most interesting tips it gave was to add a ladle of your pasta water before it is drained to your sauce. Whether you’re using a pre-made sauce or you’ve whipped it up from scratch, the salt and starch in the water will help to thicken it and make it even more delicious, which is never a bad thing in our book.
Why do these tips help?
The society explains that there are just three ingredients in pasta – eggs, flour and water. This means that all types of pasta contain starches – which are carbohydrates – and proteins. While there are a few vitamins and minerals in there too, your starch and proteins are the main bulk.
Pasta is also made of durum wheat, so the flour is not as fine as other flours in your kitchen. The larger particles also mean that many of the proteins aren’t released, which is why pasta dough – if you’ve ever made it from scratch – is stretchy but not sticky. This is why you can get so many shapes of pasta.
When your pasta is cooking away in the water, the proteins and starch interact to soften the pasta. The starch absorbs water, turning your dried pasta into an almost gummy texture. However, the starches are trapped inside the pasta by the proteins, so it stays firm rather than becoming a gloopy mess – although if you overcook your pasta, it very nearly turns into this anyway. Similarly, if you don’t stir your pasta, it will also all stick together and be a bit too spongy.
The slight stickiness to pasta once it’s cooked is due to the starch and it’s this that helps your sauce to stick to it better and why you shouldn’t rinse your pasta after draining.
Now you know how best to cook your pasta,why not take a look at some healthy, homemade pasta sauces to go with it?