Now I’m not here to dismiss anyone’s favorite spaghetti. I know we all like Mom’s or Grandma’s version, and know in our heart of hearts, theirs is the best. I understand that that notion, and I’m fine if that’s your stance. However, Grandma’s not always around to make you a plate of the perfect spaghetti. Sometimes we’re on our own, and what’s a person to do? Go Spaghetti-less? That’s not a world in which I want to live my friend. So, when you’re on your own, I want you to be able to make the best spaghetti possible, and I believe there are 10 Rules for the Perfect Spaghetti, that anyone can follow to make a better pasta dish. Frankly, the tips are not really about the sauce, but rather the spaghetti itself and the way it’s treated in combo with whatever sauce you prefer.
Ten Tips for the Perfect Spaghetti
1. Salt your water – Salting does two things. It raises the boiling temperature of the water, so the pasta can cook a bit faster, but more importantly, it seasons the pasta. As the spaghetti absorbs the water, it’s also taking in some salt, which provides more flavor. How much salt to use? Enough to make the water taste salty…like sea water.
2. Use plenty of water – If your spaghetti is tightly packed together as it cooks, it is more likely to stick and clump together. That means it won’t cook evenly, and on the plate you end up with strands of spaghetti essentially glued together. Using plenty of water helps prevent sticking. It will also help keep the temperature of the water more stable when you add the pasta, and reduce the time it takes for the water to return to a boil.
3. Stir the pasta – Another technique to help ensure the spaghetti doesn’t sick together is to stir it every couple minutes while cooking. You don’t need to stir constantly, but every few minutes, give it quick stir to move it around, and make sure the strands are cemented together.
4. Cook it to just barely al dente – You don’t want to overcook the spaghetti. I’ve seen a lot of techniques to test how cooked the spaghetti is, but the one and only I use, is to taste it. And you need to start tasting a minute or so before the package says it will be done, and then about every 30 seconds after that. Pull the spaghetti out of the water once it becomes tender, but still has a bit of firmness to it - on the early side of Al Dente. I like to cook my spaghetti in the spaghetti sauce for another few minutes, which will continue the cooking process. So if you take it out of the water fully cooked, it will become overcooked in the sauce.
5. Reserve some pasta water – The water you cook the spaghetti in, can be used to thin out the sauce if it gets too thick after combining the sauce and spaghetti. Before I drain the spaghetti, I grab a small bowl and fill it with the pasta water, and just set it aside. If I need to thin out my sauce during the new few steps, I can drizzle it in as needed.
6. Use a great sauce – Making a great spaghetti sauce is a whole other conversation (here are a few I like Bolognese, Pork Sugo, Fava Bean, Pesto) For now, I’ll simply say it’s important to use a good quality sauce. I like to keep my simmering on a separate burner, waiting for the spaghetti to cook, and then combine them together right on the stove top.
7. Finish the spaghetti in the sauce – I know many like to plate the spaghetti noodles on a large platter, and then ladle the sauce over the top. I don’t like that. Rather, I prefer to combine the spaghetti and the sauce together, directly in pan over high heat. That process, finishes cooking the spaghetti, and gives it a chance to absorb some of the flavor of the sauce, making a more homogenous dish.
8. Kill the heat and add some olive oil and cheese – After combining and cooking the spaghetti and the sauce together for a few minutes over high heat, turn the heat off, and add a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and some parmesan cheese. The two provide great added flavor, and the oil helps to make sure the spaghetti isn’t sticking together. If needed, now is the time to add back some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce.
9. Serve piled high with a nice twist – While the presentation doesn’t really change the flavor, everyone like a dish that looks nice. The key to plating spaghetti is to use a pair of tongs to gently grab a serving of spaghetti, and then as you place the spaghetti on the plate, give it a twist, so the noodles turn on themselves and sit together piled nice and high.
10. Drizzle just a touch more olive oil over it on the plate – As a final touch, drizzle a bit more good extra virgin olive oil over the top, a bit of parmesan cheese and you are good to go with the perfect spaghetti!