5 Tips for Cooking Pasta like a Pro

By Merritt Watts

A few months ago I was lucky enough to sit down with the legendary Lidia Bastianich in her New York City restaurant Felidia to talk to her about food, Italian cooking, and her newest cookbook, Lidia's Favorite Recipes. We had a lot to chat about, but the topic I was most interested in was pasta.

Lidia has cooked her fair share of pasta dishes and she even has her own line of dried pastas, so I couldn't wait to hear her advice. Here, her top five tips for making a perfect pasta dish.

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1. It's in the water. "The water should be a little salted, but it should never have oil. Never! That coats the pasta and inhibits the way the sauce sticks to pasta, so you'll end up with really slippery pasta. Who wants that?"

2. Sauce it sooner. "Obviously you don't want to rinse the pasta when you drain it. But instead of draining it at all, I like to use a skimmer to fish the pasta right out of the cooking water and transfer it straight into the sauce. It lets the flavors meld beautifully, and you'll always get some pasta water with it too, which helps thicken your sauce."

3. Don't forget a finishing touch. "Drizzle with a bit of olive oil or stir in some melted butter to add richness after the pasta has been sauced. Adding it at the end offers maximum flavor, so you can use half of the amount and get all the great taste. You'll get a lot of punch for the money."

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4. Moderation, of course. "Everyone is conscious about carbohydrates these days. If that's the case, just change the ratio. For example, you could increase the amount of vegetables in your dish so, instead of having a pasta dish that's studded with vegetables, you have the reverse - a vegetable dish that's studded with pasta."

5. Garnish smart. "If you're garnishing a pasta with fresh herbs, like basil, tear the herbs right above the hot plate just before serving. That's how chefs do it, and it's not just for show: The heat of the pasta releases the herbs fragrant oils, so you get more flavor from them."

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