Cooking macaroni is not difficult. Some factors for you to first consider are:
What should you look for in a commercially manufactured macaroni or pasta product?
When shopping, in the market, for macaroni or other pasta products, look for pasta that is golden-amber in color. The golden-amber color is a sign of good quality wheat, versus whitish, reddish or grayish hues which may indicate that a lesser quality wheat was used to manufacture the product. Macaroni and pasta prooducts that are of high quality should also have few or no specs (blackish marks) or impurities.
Macaroni and pasta products that are made with the highest quality durum wheat should not release a lot of starch in the cooking water. Look to make sure the cooking water is clear versus cloudy. Cloudy water is a good an indicator that excess starch is being released, which usually results in sticky, clumpy pasta.
Pasta made with the highest-quality durum wheat should not break, clump, or stick when cooking. When cooked, macaroni and other pasta products, should be springy and lively, not limp, and should always hold their shape.
How much water do you need to correctly cook the macaroni to the perfect al dente texture?
For a pound of macaroni or other pasta, you should use a mimimum of 4 quarts of water and up to 6 quarts of water to cook the pasta in.
How large a cooking pot do you need to cook the macaroni or other pasta evenly and without it clumping up or getting sticky?
For a pound of macaroni or other pasta, you should use a pot that is tall enough to be filled no more then 3/4 of the way full when the water is added. If you use a smaller pot, there is a chance that the water will boil over while cooking. You may want to invest in a pasta cooking pot the has a colander built in. This makes the preperation of macaroni and other pastas even easier.
What shape of macaroni/pasta should you choose in order to prepare the perfect pasta dish?
There are no hard and fast rules when choosing pasta. Many of the recipes call for macaroni, but elbow macaroni and other pasta shapes can be used interchangeably. Have fun and experiment with various pasta shapes. For a list of common pasta shape look at the web page titled “A Pasta Primer”.
Should you add salt to the water that you are going to cook the macaroni or pasta in?
Adding salt to the cooking water helps to bring out the natural flavor of the pasta. Adding salt is optional and a matter of taste. If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, please follow your doctor’s orders.
Salt may be added once the water has come to a rolling boil. If you add salt too early, this will lengthen the time that it takes the water to come to a rolling boil. If you add the salt too late, the salt will not be absorbed correctly into the pasta.
Be sure to allow the salt to dissolve before adding the macaroni or other pasta to the boiling water.
Should you add olive oil to cooking water to prevent the macaroni or other pasta from sticking?
It is possible that the method of adding olive oil to cooking water started in order to prevent pasta from clumping and sticking.
Adding olive oil to the cooking water may be useful if you are using fresh, homemade pasta or are cooking some of the largest pasta shapes.
Lesser-quality pastas tend to stick and clump. A good-quality pasta should not stick or clump. If you use a high quality macaroni or pasta product, clumping and sticking will be mimimized.
Also remember, a little bit of cooking water is usually reserved to help bind the sauce that is being used in the finished dish. By adding olive oil, the binding quality of the starches released in the water are offset by the slippery quality of the olive oil.
When do you add the macaroni or other pasta to the water?
When the water in your cooking pot has reached a full rolling boil, pour in the macaroni or other pasta and increase the heat source to bring the water back to a rolling boil.
Do not cover the cooking pot while the pasta is cooking. You should stir the macaroni or other pasta gently several times while it is cooking using a long handled spoon.
Do this about once every 2 to 3 minutes to insure that the macaroni or other pasta cooks evenly and does not stick to the bottom of the cooking pot.
How Long Should You Cook Macaroni Or Other Pasta?
You should follow the cooking times shown on the package to cook the perfect macaroni or other pasta.
But you should remember that it is a good idea to taste the pasta 1 to 2 minutes before draining to make sure it suits your taste. Macaroni and other pasta is cooked properly when it is soft on the outside, but the inside is still a little hard.
In authentic Italian cooking, this is called al dente (to the tooth) and simply means that the finished macaroni or pasta should be firm “in bite” when it is ready to be eaten.
In Italy, macaroni and other pasta is usually undercooked in the water by about three minutes. The pasta is then transferred to a sauté pan with the prepared sauce. Then the pasta is cooked with the sauce for the additional three minutes. This allows the pasta to absorb the flavors of the sauce.
What do you do immediately after the macaroni or other pasta is done cooking?
You should drain pasta into a large colander and toss it gently to remove excess liquid. The macaroni or other pasta should remain moist but not dripping wet. It should not be rinsed after cooking unless for a pasta salad recipe.
Always save a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. The cooking water may be needed to dilute the sauce or in sautéing the pasta with the sauce before serving.
The natural starches released from the pasta complement the pasta meal because they help “bind” the sauce that is to be used, and allow the sauce to adhere better to the pasta.