Cooking pasta seems like an incredibly easy thing to do. Boil water, add pasta, and voila. Cooked pasta. When you start to think about it, though, there’s actually a lot more to it. When do you add the pasta to the water? What’s that thing about salt? Should I use fresh and dried pasta? Ignoring any of these sorts of questions could be the difference between a dish that gets you past the first date and a dish that leaves you at home alone and eating overcooked pasta.
Cooking pasta correctly is easy with just a few tips and tricks. In their new book, Eataly: All About Pasta, the team behind the international Italian marketplace Eataly has put together everything you need to know about pasta. From detailing the different types of pasta and their best uses to a slew of authentic Italian recipes, All About Pasta covers it all.
Below, check out Eataly’s essential tips and tricks for how to cook pasta, then read on for a delicious fusilli with speck and radicchio recipe where you can apply all of your newfound pasta knowledge.
How to Cook Pasta
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. There should be plenty of room for pasta to circulate. Sometimes fresh pasta is cooked in batches to avoid crowding the pot. Use a lid to bring to a boil more quickly.
- Salt the water. Pasta cooked in unsalted water will never taste right — it absorbs the salt as it cooks. Pasta cooking water should be just slightly less salty than the sea. (If you are using salty ingredients, such as salted anchovies or capers in the sauce, keep that in mind for balance.) Take off the lid and add a handful of coarse sea salt to the boiling water. This may look like a lot, but most of the salt washes away when you drain the pasta.
- After adding the salt, wait for the water to return to a boil, then add the pasta. As soon as you add the pasta, stir with a wooden spoon or long-handled fork. Do not break long pasta to fit in the pot. Simply wait a moment for the pasta immersed in the water to soften, then push the remainder of the pasta into the water. Stir frequently while the pasta is cooking. Across Italy, cooks adding pasta to the water announce, “Butto giù!” – I’m throwing in! – which indicates a rough ten-minute countdown until the meal will be served.
- Cook pasta al dente. Fresh pasta is usually ready when it floats to the surface of the cooking water. Dried semolina pasta has a cooking time on the package. Start testing 1 to 2 minutes before the cooking time provided. There is no cure for overcooked pasta. To test dried semolina pasta, fish out one piece with a skimmer or fork and take a bite. If the center is brittle and has a chalky white color, it’s not ready. When it’s al dente, there will be slight resistance “to the tooth,” but nothing hard, and the color will be mostly uniform throughout with just a slightly lighter color in the center. Like Riccoli d’Oro (you know her as Goldilocks), you’re looking for something just right – not overcooked and not undercooked.
- Drain the pasta. Either place a colander in the sink and pour the pasta and water into the colander or use a slotted spoon or skimmer to remove the pasta from the pot. Transfer the pasta to a skillet or serving bowl. Often you will reserve some of the cooking water. Always turn off the burner as you remove the pot – never leave pasta sitting in its cooking water off the heat.
- Serve immediately. Pasta waits for no one.
One tip we’d add? Don’t forget the wine.
Fusilli con Speck e Radicchio Recipe
“This is the perfect dish to throw together when unexpected guests knock at your door. It can be made with fresh egg pasta for a somewhat more substantial dish, and it would be fabulous with fresh garganelli, a quill-shaped egg pasta. You can also serve grated Grana Padano cheese on the side if you like. Any variety of radicchio will work here. When radicchio cooks, it loses much of its bitterness and turns slightly sweet, a flavor that plays off the smokiness of the speck very well. Tip: Purchase the speck for this dish in a single slab and then cut it into cubes at home.”
- 1 pound fusilli
- 2 oz speck
- .75 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small head radicchio
- 1 shallot
- Cooking water
- Coarse sea salt for pasta
- Fine sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
- Cut the radicchio into ribbons. Chop the speck into .25-inch cubes. Mince the shallot.
- In a skillet large enough to hold the pasta comfortably, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and speck and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot is translucent, about 3 minutes.
- Add the radicchio and stir to combine. Season lightly with fine sea salt. (Remember that the speck is somewhat salty.) Turn the heat to low and cook, covered, until the radicchio is very wilted and has turned dark purple, about 7 minutes. (If the radicchio starts to stick to the pan before it is cooked, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water.) Add the cream to the pan, stir, and cook until just slightly reduced and clinging to the radicchio, about 3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, when the water in the large pot boils, add coarse salt and then add the fusilli. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the pasta is al dente.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain in a colander and then transfer to the pan with the sauce. Toss over medium heat until the pasta is coated in sauce. Season with a generous amount of fresh pepper and serve immediately.
How to Cook Pasta and Fusilli con Speck e Radicchio and images reprinted with permission from Eataly: All About Pasta: A Complete Guide by Natalie Danford. Rizzoli, 2018.