Pastasciutta Method

Pastasciutta is simply store bought, dried, boxed pasta. It is neither better nor worse than fresh home made pasta, rather a completely different beast. One which can and will be your best friend it you follow a few simple concepts.  

When purchasing dried pasta, you'll see a wide variety of shapes and prices between brands. As a general rule, pick the pasta shape that will do well with what you're going to be pairing them with. As an example, large rigatoni work well with similarly sized chunks of sausage, eggplant or butternut squash. These bulky ingredients would NOT pair as well with spaghetti or the smallest stelline. With this in mind, it becomes fairly obvious that dried pastas pair really well with hearty flavors and textures. The finest butter or seafood sauces are more suited to the delicate textures of homemade fresh pasta. I pair oil based sauces exclusively with dried spaghetti or linguine and almost nothing else - the action of twirling and the texture of multiple strands of pasta cooked perfectly al dente are heaven with oil-based sauces. 

When cooking pasta, I look for good texture, excellent flavor (of the pasta alone) and a marriage between the pasta and the sauce. To visualize this let's imagine a sponge, a pot of water and a pan of tomato purée. If we squeeze that sponge in our bare-hand, submerge it into water and release, it will soak up all of that water and be saturated. Now if we put it in the tomato purée, not a whole lot is going to happen - the sponge and tomato will remain seperate entites. However, if when submerging that pre-squeezed sponge into the water, we only release halfwayand then do the final release in the tomato purée, it will indeed soak up some of the tomato purée. Obviously the sponge is a metaphor for the pasta. The point is that; when cooking pasta, the marriage between pasta and sauce must be a strong, eternal bond. In fact in Italy, the pasta is the lead singer of the band, not the sauce (Stateside the pasta tends to be relegated to back up vocalist). Let's go over 3 simple steps for better pasta. 

1. Use an abundant amount of boiling water 10x the water by weight vs the pasta you plan to cook. This is will keep it from sticking to itself, not olive oil or any other hocus-pocus(if anything. the oil clogs the pores of the pasta preventing adhesion from the sauce, and it's a waste of olive oil). A rolling boil and lots of water are the secret to pasta strands that cook perfectly without sticking to each other. 

2. Salt the water like you mean it! A teaspoon of salt in the water? is that a joke? the water needs to taste like something. about 1-2% salinity is what you'll need for salt to do anything at all. Now, for the sake of ease, I'll use the metric system, this means that if you have 5 liters of boiling water, (5000g) you'll want to use 50-100g of salt! and no more than 500g of pasta (a little more than a box). it's a 100/10/1 ratio of water, to pasta to salt. this is why I say "make the water taste like the ocean" because it's more like a giant palmful of salt, rather than a teaspoon, that you should be dumping in the water. The best way to do this is to wait for the water to boil, add some salt, stir and allow the salt to dissolve and taste it. Yes, dip a spoon in, cool it off with your breath like mom used to de before giving you a spoonful of soup as a child, and taste it. In actuality, the ocean is too salty and you'll probably need to over-salt the water once to know where the correct level of salt is.. But - the pasta should taste flavorful and amazing right out of the water, this is how that's achieved. Lastly, keep in mind that 90% of that salt will stay in the water, so you're not going to be consuming 50-100g of salt, don't worry. 

3. Don't over cook it! I'm a fan of cooking 1-2 minutes under the lowest recommended cooking time listed on the box, this is where the sponge analogy comes in. the first 85% of the pasta's cooking is in salty water - and the last 15% is in the sauce, whatever it may be, with the occasional ladle of salty pasta water. this is the only true way to have an excellent marriage of pasta and sauce. enjoy. Oh, and serve it right away!