Accurate Timing When Cooking Pasta

Start timing the pasta from the moment the water returns to a boil after adding the pasta. Always go by the time given on the package or, in the case of fresh homemade pasta, by the time given in the recipe. For the greatest accuracy, use a kitchen timer with a bell or buzzer because even half a minute of overcooking can ruin pasta, especially if it is freshly made. Dried egg pasta is more difficult to spoil, so if you are new to pasta cooking and nervous about getting it right, start with this type.

For fresh pasta

As a general guide, thin fresh noodles will take only 2-3 minutes, thicker fresh noodles and pasta shapes 3-4 minutes, and stuffed fresh pasta 5-7 minutes.

For dried pasta

The cooking time for dried pasta will vary from 8-20 minutes depending on the type and the manufacturer. Always check the cooking time provided on the label.

Cooking Fresh Pasta

1. For freshly made pasta that has been drying on a dish towel, gather the cloth up around the pasta in a loose cylindrical shape and hold it firmly at both ends.
2. Hold the towel over the water, then let go of the end nearest to the water so that the pasta drops in.

Cooking Long Dried Pasta

1. For spaghetti you need to coil the pasta into the water as it softens. Take a handful at a time and dip it in the boiling water so that it touches the bottom of the pan.
2. As the spaghetti strands soften, coil them around using a wooden spoon or fork until they are all submerged.

Cooking Stuffed Pasta

1. Stuffed shapes require more gentle handling or they may break open and release their filling into the water, so stir them gently during cooking.
2. The best method of draining stuffed shapes after cooking is to lift them carefully out of the water with a large pasta scoop or slotted spoon (left).

When is it cooked?

The Italian term of dente is used to describe pasta that is cooked to perfection. Literally translated this means "to the tooth," meaning that it should be firm to the bite, which is how Italians like their pasta, and therefore how it should be served. Dried pasta, which is made from durum wheat, is always served al dente, whereas fresh pasta is made from a softer wheat and so is never as firm as dried, but it should still have some resistance to it. Overcooked pasta is limp and unpalatable. even slimy, and an Italian cook would not serve it. To check that the pasta is ready, test pasta frequently toward the end of the recommended cooking time by lifting out a piece with tongs, a pasta scoop or a slotted spoon and biting into it. When you are satisfied that it is done to your liking, it is time to stop the cooking.

At-a-glance Amounts

Amounts of pasta given here are intended only as a guide to the number of people they will serve. If you are cooking fresh pasta, you may need a little more than if you are using dried, but the difference is really negligible. What is more significant is whether you are serving a light or substantial sauce with the pasta.

For an Italian-style first course (primo piatto) for 4-6 people, or a main course for 2-3 people:

2/2 quarts water
1 tablespoon salt
9— 12 ounces fresh or dried pasta

For a first course for 6-8 people, or a main course for 4-6 people:

4 quarts water
11/2-2 tablespoons salt
1 ounces—1 pound fresh or dried pasta