No matter the season, a pasta dish never seems to disappoint. Whether a baked ziti casserole or spaghetti simply tossed with garlic and olive oil, pasta is versatile and makes for a crowd-pleasing main every time.
Sure, ready-made pasta is convenient, but our homemade pasta dough is easy to make and can be turned into any shapes you fancy. And don’t worry about ending up with gluey noodles – we supply expert tips on how to make outstanding pasta dishes for friends and family.
But first, if you’re not making homemade dough, should you buy fresh or dry pasta? Fresh pasta is usually made with flour and eggs and is more delicate in structure, while its dry counterpart is made from semolina flour and water and is much sturdier. Lighter sauces pair better with fresh pasta and allow its flavour to shine. For heartier sauces like a Bolognese, dry pasta is your best bet.
Start With The Dough
“Yeah, right,” you might think when it comes to making pasta from scratch. But hear us out: flour, water and your two hands are all you need to make little cavatelli shells. Learn how it’s done with our Homemade Cavatelli with Butter Sage Sauce recipe and watch the technique in our how-to video. The dough can also be shaped into small orecchiette (“little ear”) disks, rolled out and cut into fettucine-style noodles or be turned into ravioli pockets.
If filling shells with a gooey cheese mixture is more your thing, try our Cheese Stuffed Shells with Chicken Bolognese. This recipe delivers serious homemade goodness by stuffing pre-made pasta shells with three kinds of cheeses and baking them until bubbly. Delizioso!
The Perfect Boil
Start with a pot full of salted water and bring to a vigorous boil — the large bubbles help move noodles around so they cook more evenly. Once the pasta is added to the boiling water, allow submerged noodle ends to melt slightly, then clasp the dry ends with tongs and slowly swirl them into the boiling water (this is important for long pasta noodles). Now stir it up! Sticky starches are released in the first few minutes of cooking, so continue to stir the pasta to keep the noodles apart and allow them to cook evenly and perfectly.
Drain the pasta using a colander and move the noodles around by shaking it gently so any excess water drains. There is no need to rinse the pasta, unless you’re planning to serve it cold in the form of a pasta salad or cold noodle dish. Also, don’t forget to save a cup of pasta water just before draining it. Adding a little bit of this starchy water helps loosen the pasta sauce and helps it stick to the noodles better.
How to Achieve Al Dente
The real key to al dente (generally understood as “firm to the bite,” but literally translated from Italian, it means “to the tooth”) success is simple: sample the pasta when it’s nearly done. If it is firm but cooked through, take it out; if it’s too firm or chalky, leave it in for another minute. Repeat.
Cook Pasta in Advance
Yes, you can! This trick is especially handy when feeding a large crowd. Account for two ounces of dried pasta per person before cooking. Then follow these simple steps:
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and then add in the pasta.
2. Continue boiling pasta until you’re halfway through the recommended cook time.
3. Drain pasta and submerge in an ice bath to stop it from cooking further.
4. Drizzle pasta with olive oil to prevent sticking and store covered, in the fridge. Use within two days.
5. When ready to serve, either boil the pasta for about 60 seconds or let it finish cooking right in the sauce.
Didn’t have time to cook the pasta in advance? Give yourself a hand by having the sauce and sides ready and the table set, so the last thing you need to do is cook the pasta. Once al dente, toss with the sauce and serve it immediately. Mangiare !
When stored in a sealed container, pasta leftovers will keep in the fridge for three to five days.
Since pasta can be made by hand, a pasta machine is not an essential kitchen appliance. However, for more elaborate shapes and varieties, a machine can be handy. So if you’re ready to master the pasta machine, here’s what you do:
First, lightly knead dough with your palms until it’s elastic (about two minutes). Divide the dough in half. Set the pasta machine rollers at the widest setting and roll through one half of your dough. Fold the half into thirds — as you would a letter — rotate it 90 degrees and roll it through the machine again. Repeat this process until the dough starts looking smooth and shiny, about three to four times. Now start reducing the opening of your machine and roll pasta through, one notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness for your recipe.