Pastasciutta Part 2: La Cottura
Click here for Part 1.
La Cottura in Italian refers to "how you cook the pasta." Jeremy (my very own highly-paid Italian language expert) explained to me that there is no direct translation, when I asked him if there were another way to define this word without using an entire English phrase.
But there is no direct or "slavish" translation for this second important element in making a great plate of pasta. Much more simple, at the same time much easier to err, than it would seem.
The simplicity (and difficulty) in all of this is twofold.
1. Salting the water
2. Duration of boiling
For the first, many a cookbook would have you egregiously underseason your water. I use the word "season" because how you flavor the water translates to flavor enhancement of the pasta itself. In Italy, we can eat a fantastic primo piatto, but recreating that glory once home can leave even the best home cook scratching her head, wondering why she can't get that same intangible...umph.
One thing that I have seen over and over in my years in Italy is a generous flow of salt into the boiling pot. Taste your water; it should be just a bit less salty than the sea. This may seem like an exaggeration but I promise it will take the pasta itself from being a neutral vessel for the exaltation of your best sauce to a supporting role that takes the whole show over the top.
Second, please don't overcook your pasta. I said PLEASE DO NOT NOT NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA! Did you hear me? Chewing on slightly undercooked pasta is preferable to the awful sensation of a rigatone that gives up too easily under the pressure of your teeth.
Besides the flavor of your sauce, you should really be enjoying a well seasoned spaghetto with the pleasant tactile sensation of pasta that is perfectly al dente. You want to feel, taste, and smell its presence underlining the fabulosity of your perfect ragu'.
To achieve this effortlessly, read the cooking time on your box of high quality dried pasta (remember lesson 1?) and drain it about 2 minutes short. There will be carry-over cooking as well as a bit more time in the pan with the condiment. (Please tell me that you stir your pasta in the pan with the sauce! Also important--must meld.)
Tell your guests to sit down and dig in when the plate hits the table because, honey, zee pasta waits-a for a-nobody!