If there’s a chef in the US who can offer advice on the subject, it’s Missy Robbins of Lilia in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood.
In her 2017 cookbook, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Life: Recipes and Adventures From My Home Kitchen (Rizzoli), Robbins divulges some of her favourite recipes, from 30 (garlic) clove sauce to fettuccine with butter and truffles.
As Robbins has mastered the art of pasta cooking, she’s become militant about the steps that go into creating a perfect bowl of the stuff.
Here’s her advice on where you may be going wrong when you do it.
You use a small pot
“Even if it looks way too big, grab a large pot,” Robbins says. “And add more water than you think you need. There should be enough space for the pasta to move around so that it cooks evenly in water that’s at a rolling boil. If it looks like your pasta is crammed in a hot bathtub of simmering water, you were too skimpy with your pot and your water. And remember that heavily salted water is essential.”
You add oil to your cooking water.
“Here’s the short reason why: it prevents sauce from sticking to the pasta. It’s basically like adding a raincoat to whatever shape you’re using, which is not what you want in a finished dish.”
You grab a colander
“If you’re draining your pasta in a colander in the sink, you’re losing all the cooking water - and that water is an important ingredient for a great dish. Some pots have a basket insert, which is a larger version of the pasta baskets we use in restaurants. You can also buy one separately. Alternately, you can remove pasta from the pot with tongs for long shapes or a large slotted spoon for small ones. Just remember to work fast as you extract the pasta from the water.”
You discriminate against the classics
“Buying expensive artisanal pasta in eye-catching shapes isn’t essential to a delicious dish. Whatever brand works for you, use it.”
You pour sauce on top
“You’ve seen those images on jars of someone pouring sauce on to a mountain of pasta: they are wrong. If you’re serving a sauced pasta, you should always add the pasta to a pan of sauce and finish cooking it there. These last few minutes are crucial: they ensure the pasta absorbs more flavour. Allow for that additional time by under-cooking your pasta a bit in the boiling water. And add spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water you reserved to the sauce as you stir the pasta; it will be a little thick from the starch of the pasta and help thicken and flavour the sauce.”