It all starts with mistake number one. Timing. Much depends on what kind of pasta you will be preparing. Fresh pasta needs a couple of minutes.
Ravioli and tortellini and gnocchi follow are easy to boil. Once they come up and float, they are ready.
With pasta asciutta, dry pasta, the timing is just a tad more difficult. The indicated time on the packet is a valid clue. Subtract the time your pasta will be tossed in a pan. If you don’t, mush is inevitable.
As it goes with Italian cooking, it is about feeling. Quanto basta. Probably the most accurate indication in general.
2. Is al dente a mistake?
Italians like their pasta with a bite. Al dente. Or better still, they don’t like their pasta fully cooked. It is among the biggest mistakes possible in the Italian kitchen.
Even nutritionists added fuel to the fire. They state -rightly- that al dente pasta has lower glycemic index. And the longer pasta boils, the more nutrients it loses.
The plain truth is that pretending pasta must be al dente is rather recent. So if you prefer it mushy, simply tell people your style dates back before the sixties.
3. Down the drain
Don’t drain your pasta. Big, big mistake. You need the cooking water. So either put a bowl under the colander or use skimmer.
The water is rich in starch which acts as glue. It unites pasta with your sauce. And moreover, it gives your pasta creaminess. Without adding that dreadful cream.
Just for the record, don’t add oil to the water. It does not protect pasta from sticking. Just give the pasta a stir and that problem is resolved. Oil prevents sauce sticking to pasta. And that is bad.
4. Make no mistakes : order must be
Is your sauce ready? Fresh boiled pasta goes in a pan with sauce. Or in a bowl and mix at the spot. You should never see ‘naked‘ pasta on your plate. The dress can be a veil of oil. Or a summer dress of tomato sauce.
Long pasta asks for smooth condiments. Short pasta tolerates chunks. Not bigger than the pasta you use though.
Never serve condiment separated from the fresh boiled pasta. Just don’t.
5. Quality over quantity
Pasta is just flour and water. Which is true. If flour is semolina. And preferably made with local grown wheat. The price is relative after all. A standard Italian portion weighs about 80 to 100 grams. Per person. So go for quality rather than quantity.
Avoid pasta made from soft wheat. Look for the word durum. Latin for hard. Of all mistakes, choosing the wrong pasta is most common.