Boiling pasta would appear to be a task that even non-cooks could complete; it seems so ridiculously basic. But after one bite of spaghetti cacio e pepe at a restaurant in Rome, we’re sure that Italian chefs must know something we don’t. In Italy, they serve noodles (rigatoni, farfalle or any other pasta) tender, yet with a pleasant, slightly chewy texture. The very center is ever-so-slightly underdone (that’s the pasta’s “soul,” as an Italian artisan once explained to The New York Times). And while we’d always figured our not-quite-al-dente pasta was due to a timing miscalculation, that wasn’t our number one mistake. We pored over cookbooks and spoke to chefs and experts, and hands-down, the most common thing they said Americans do wrong when cooking pasta starts, simply enough, with the pot itself.
Any noodle, whether long or cut, will expand when it cooks. So, if it barely fits into the pot when you add it, it’s going to be way too packed once it’s been bubbling away for a few minutes. The crowded situation is bad for a few reasons, say 99 percent of experts (there is a scientific school of thought that says using a smaller pot with less water is okay, but you must stir it almost constantly). First, a low water-to-pasta ratio means it’s going to take longer for the water to come back up to a boil once the pasta is added. Rapid boiling is good; it bounces the pasta around and prevents sticking, so the water can permeate the dried pasta (right to its soul, of course). Second, as the pasta cooks, it releases starch. A small amount of water won’t let that starch dilute enough, and the finished pasta will have a gummy texture—decidedly not al dente.
Select a pot that holds at least 6 quarts, says Nicole Karr, a chef who has worked in restaurants in northern Italy and New York City, and the author of Handmade Pasta. That generally means a vessel with two handles—not one long handle, which is how saucepans that fit 1 1/2 to 4 quarts of liquid are usually designed. Two-handled stock pots can typically contain 6 to 8 quarts. Fill yours about 3/4 of the way with water for a pound of pasta.
When the bubbles are coming fast and furious, salt it well (it should “taste like the ocean,” says everyone from Karr to Mario Batali) and gently pour in the pasta. Stir occasionally, and Karr says the first two minutes are crucial, since that’s when the pasta is mostly likely to stick to the bottom of the pot—and itself. As for timing, Karr swears by the directions on the pasta box. That usually means about nine minutes.
Though we may not have mastered a true Roman cacio e pepe, at least we’ve got the noodle part down.
This is a great and quick dinner that is ready in no time flat. We aren’t a big fan of cilantro so I leave that out but I left it in as the original recipe called for it.
- 1 carton (32 oz) chicken broth
- 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, thinly sliced in 1/2-inch strips (about 20 oz)
- 12 oz uncooked spaghetti, broken in half (from 1-lb box)
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut in thin strips
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced on the bias, white and green parts separated
- 1 package (3 1/2 oz) shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons chile garlic sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 tablespoon sesame seed
In 5-quart Dutch oven, mix broth, chicken, spaghetti, bell pepper, green onion whites, mushrooms, butter, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce and chile garlic sauce. Heat to boiling over high heat, stirring occasionally.
Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 11 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until juice of chicken is clear when thickest part is cut (at least 165°F), pasta is cooked and most of liquid is absorbed. Top with green onion greens, cilantro and sesame seed. Serve with additional soy sauce and chile garlic sauce, as desired.
This is easy to prepare in advance and keep in the fridge until ready to bake. It can also be frozen unbaked and partially thawed overnight in the refrigerator before baking.
- 1 pound spaghetti or angel hair pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
- 4 cups prepared pasta sauce (use your favorite bottled variety or prepare your own)
- 2 cups creamed cottage cheese
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 cups grated Mozzarella cheese
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until slightly underdone. Drain and rinse. Toss pasta with 1 tablespoon olive oil and set aside.
- Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and onion and cook until meat is browned. (Use a potato masher to break up the lumps of meat while sautéing.) Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté another minute. Stir in the pasta sauce.
- Spray 9″ x 13″ deep-dish casserole with cooking spray.
- Cover bottom with a layer of meat sauce (about half).
- Spread cottage cheese over sauce.
- Add the pasta and spread evenly in pan.
- Spoon remaining sauce over entire dish.
- Sprinkle surface with Parmesan cheese and top with mozzarella
- Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
- Uncover and bake for 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup red onion (diced)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 lb ground beef
- 2 tbsp taco seasoning (click link for homemade)
- 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with green chilies
- 1 cup buffalo sauce
- ½ lb spaghetti noodles
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- 1 cup cheddar cheese – spicy cheddar optional (grated)
- Add the olive oil to a large pot oover medium heat.
- Once the oil is hot, add the red onion, saute 3-4 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for an additional minute.
- Add the ground beef and cook through.
- Once the beef is cooked, drain any grease, then add the taco seasoning, diced tomatoes with green chilies and buffalo sauce.
- Break the spaghetti noodles in half, then add to the pot.
- Pour the chicken broth over the noodles and stir to combine.
- Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
- Remove the lid and serve the spaghetti topped with grated cheddar cheese.