Pasta - Buying, Storing & Cooking
Italy is the center of the world of Pasta, so this page centers on Italian dried pasta made from durum wheat, but is generally applicable to other European pastas and noodles. Because they are used much differently, Asian Noodles and Arabic Pasta have their own pages.
Here it is: 4 quarts water per pound of pasta,
1/2 T salt per quart.
If buying pasta to be cooked in anything like Italian style, check the ingredients. The only ingredient should be durum wheat semolina. In some cases they also list water, and "enriched" pasta will have a list of vitamins, but durum wheat or durum semolina should be the only significant ingredient. Italian pasta will always be thus, because it's illegal for it to be anything else in Italy. The better grades of American pasta will be the same - unless they are labeled "egg noodles".
Industrial "teflon die" pasta, whether US made or Italian made, is quite affordable in North America. Be prepared to pay up to a US dollar more per pound for the same thing in an Italian specialty market - but you can find more unusual shapes there. Then there is artisnal "bronze die" pasta which goes for a premium price. Figure another US dollar per pound over regular market or Italian market prices.
Unfortunately, the right ingredients don't guarantee good pasta. The worst I've had was from Greece. This is not to condemn all Greek made pasta, but to advise caution. Pasta that's dried too fast will develop stresses and disintegrate when cooked. Take particular care to vet complex pastas like Route (Wagon Wheels). If they have been dried too quickly they will fall apart. Don't depend on these to come out right until you have tested the particular brand.
The other category, Egg Noodles, is used mostly for recipes of German, Polish and Hungarian extraction. In Italy, egg noodles are made fresh, not dried. Egg noodles are usually made from soft wheat flour, but I have encountered some egg pastas from Germany made from durum wheat.Storing Pasta
Your enemies are moisture, moths and beetles. Pasta must be stored in a cool dry environment, tightly sealed in thick plastic. The critters can bore right through cardboard and thin plastic. I use heat sealed 1 mil polyurethane bags if the manufacturer's packaging seems too delicate, has been opened, is damaged, or is a cardboard box. Given a proper container and suitable conditions, pasta will keep just fine for several years (unless the bugs have been pre-installed). cooking time may increase a little with age.Tools You Need
Pots: Good quality stainless steel is what you want to use, not aluminum or steel which can taint the flavor. Cooking pasta for just me (5 ounces) I use a 3 quart pot. For a pound of pasta a 5 quart pot and for 2 pounds an 8 quart. That's a shade small for 2 pounds, but it takes less room on the stove than my 12 quart. Note that the original Italian pasta pot for "macaroni" (spaghetti) was shallow and very wide.
Pasta Fork: The one in the photo is the one you want. Those with pegs stuck in a paddle are worthless, the pegs fall out within a couple of uses. Someone gave me a stainless steel one, in design very similar to my wooden one, but I use it only for dipping olives out of a drum because I expect the sharp edges will damage the pasta. A plastic one would serve, but I dislike plastic utensils on aesthetic grounds.
Strainer: I use wire strainers which drain very fast. For one or two servings I use a 7-1/2 inch strainer, for more than that a 10-1/4 inch strainer.Cooking Pasta
There are two approved methods, the traditional method and that recommended by major Italian pasta manufacturer Agnesi. The Agnesi method is a little more tolerant of timing."Al Dente"
Every cook book dealing with pasta tells you to cook it "al dente", meaning "to the tooth" - but this varies. Italians like their pasta quite firm in the center - just on the tender side of chalky. This point is not easy to achieve - it takes careful testing and fast draining.
Greeks and Turks prefer their pasta cooked through so there is only the vaguest firmness in the center, if any - but not mushy.
Americans of taste prefer an "al dente" in between these two extremes, a point that's a little easier to achieve than Italian perfection - in fact, you probably have a 2 minute window here, rather than just one minute.Traditional Method
All considerations from the Traditional Method are followed, except these specific variations.