Although I openly admit that I do not know much about cooking, I honestly thought I knew how to cook pasta. My entire life I thought the best way to cook pasta was to add oil to the water before adding the pasta. It makes sense to me, since it seems as though the pasta will be coated by the oil, which will then keep it from clumping or sticking together.
Imagine my surprise when I found out I was wrong!
It’s almost funny how I even found this out. My stepdaughter is 19 and also doesn’t know how to cook. She walked in to the kitchen recently as I was starting a batch of spaghetti. In an effort to help educate her on cooking, I asked if she knows the best way to cook pasta. She said she didn’t, so I told her that you should add oil to the water, for the reason I stated above.
Then, on a whim, I went to my bookcase full of cookbook, pulled out The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and turned to page 178. Here, the book gives a brief primer on cooking pasta. The very first paragraph said to stop wasting oil by pouring it into water for cooking noodles,because it does not do anything to prevent noodles from sticking together. I was shocked, but continued to read.
The book went on to say how salt is the important ingredient, not oil, because it helps season the noodles. According to the author, “…it is imperative to cook the pasta in salted water.” Wow. And I had already wasted olive oil in my currently boiling water…
As I continued to read, I learned that the amount of salt is also important. A quick shake of salt over the water will not be enough. The correct amount of salt is about 1 tablespoon per 4 quarts of water. So, it looks like I’m going to have to start measuring the water instead of just filling the pot.
By the way, not all salts are created equal. The above measurement is if you are using regular table salt. If, however, you prefer to use kosher salt, then you need to double the quantity to 2 tablespoons for every 4 quarts of water.
And, if you are cooking smaller amounts of pasta, as I am today, and only using a quart of water, you might be wondering how much salt to use. One quart of water will need 3/4 teaspoon of table salt (or 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt).
Oh, and one more thing. This wonderful cookbook said that the reason noodles stick together is because not enough water is used when boiling them. I have often used a very small pot when cooking pasta, and will move to a larger pot in the future.
So, it seems I now need to backpedal what I said to my stepdaughter. The good news, though, is that we both will now know how to cook pasta the proper way, and never again have clumpy noodles.