Three Keys to cook perfect noodles
1) Good tasting, fresh water, about a gallon per pound of noodles. Pasta needs lots of water to keep moving while it boils to prevent sticking and gumminess. Dry pasta absorbs water and swells as it cooks, so you need more water than you might think. Homemade pasta is more tender so it needs space. Noodles will absorb flavor from the water, so use filtered or bottled if your tap water has an off flavor.
2) A big pot. For a pound of pasta noodles you’ll need a 6-8 quart pot, preferably stainless steel, with sturdy handles and a lid. There must be several inches of space at the top to allow a full rolling boil and some foaming without running over.
3) High heat for boiling water — the water must be at a full rolling boil before the noodles go in and quickly returned to a boil after the noodles go in.
You’ll also need a tall spoon to stir the pot, tongs or a long-handled dipping strainer to remove the cooked noodles and something to place them in, or a colander set up to strain the noodles. Have your hot pads at hand to hold and move the pot.
And prepare the sauce before the pasta noodles are done so they can be added immediately. Don’t leave hot, drained noodles sitting or they’ll stick together.
How to cook noodles and pasta
1) Fill the pot with about 6 quarts of fresh water, leave several inches from the top. If you need to make more than two pounds of pasta, use two pots instead of a larger pot. If you’re making just a half-pound of noodles, you can use just 3 quarts of water.
2) Place the pot of water on a burner on high heat and put the cover on to help speed up the heating. Bring the water to a full rolling boil. Add 1-2 tablespoons of salt carefully as the water will boil furiously for a few seconds when the salt goes in. The water should taste slightly but distinctly salty.
3a) Fresh homemade noodles: 1 pound feeds 2-4
Have plenty of boiling water so the noodles aren’t crowded. Keep the water at a full rolling boil while you drop the noodles in as quickly as possible. Right away stir them gently so they don’t stick together and bring the water back to a full boil. Watch and regulate the heat so it doesn’t boil over — oil in the water doesn’t prevent it but may help reduce friction on tender pasta and keep it from breaking up — be prepared to stir or pull the pot off the heat for a moment if it boils up.
3b) Dry noodles: 1 pound feeds 4-6
To rapidly boiling water add 1-2 pounds of dry pasta noodles. If they’re too tall to fit there’s no need to break long pasta noodles like spaghetti; place them into the water long end first and carefully and gently push down. They will soften and bend almost at once. As soon as the noodles are in the water give them a stir to be sure they aren’t sticking together. Cover and bring the water back to a hard boil, stirring as necessary to prevent them from sticking together, then turn down the heat to just keep the water and noodles moving and leave the cover off. Watch and regulate the heat so it doesn’t boil over — oil in the water doesn’t prevent that — be prepared to pull the pot off the heat for a moment if it boils up.
How to tell when the noodles are done:
Just taste a noodle to test whether it’s done. If it’s difficult to judge one noodle, test a mouthful (don’t burn yourself — cool them first.) The longer they cook the softer they’ll get. And they will keep cooking after they come out of the water, so remove them when they feel a little under done or “al dente.” If you plan to finish cooking them in the sauce take them out of the water even sooner. Check the box of dry noodles for recommended cooking times, but only use that as a reference; thinner will cook faster. Fresh homemade noodles may take just a minute or two, unless they’re thick or filled.
Drain the noodles
As soon as the noodles are done they must be removed immediately from the cooking water. The standard method is pouring the whole potful through a colander set in a sink so the noodles are caught and the water drains away. Save a cupful of the cooking water first in case the sauce needs it or the strained noodles sit for a minute and need to be loosened up. If you have a small quantity of pasta in the pot, an alternative is to fish out filled pastas with a long-handled strainer, or tongs work well for a few long noodles.
Add them to your sauce right away and serve. If the noodles are for a cold dish, immediately plunge them in cold water and strain again before chilling or adding other cold ingredients.