Easy Cooking Tips You Want To Know

Last week I was doing an event in Central Park that was all about tips for Italian cooking. The Barilla Pasta Company sponsored it. I learned some really simple, but key things I didn’t know about cooking pasta, sautéing garlic and using olive oil. Wanted to share them with you guys.

The Pasta Experts


Always boil enough water for your pasta: one gallon of water to one pound of pasta.

Don’t add oil to your water. It does nothing. If you don’t want it to stick, the key is to add enough water and to occasionally stir it.

Add enough salt so that your water tastes like broth. For those who add a pinch of salt (like I always have)—try a few tablespoons instead. Unless you have dietary restrictions, your water should taste like a broth/saltwater. The salt will stick to the pasta and help give it flavor. I kid you not; this made a HUGE difference in the way the dishes tasted.

Don’t EVER rinse your pasta (something I always did until now). You want the starch on it to bind to your sauce.

Don’t overcook your pasta. How do you know? Follow the directions on the box. Every pasta shape is different, so you must read the directions. If it says boil for 9 minutes, test it at 8. The chefs would often drain it a minute early and add it to the sauce they were making. That way it would finish cooking in the saucepan. If you overcook pasta, you lose the essence of it. Plus, it is harder to digest. You definitely want al dente, which is usually what the directions specify on the box.


Use a good olive oil. Look for bottles/brands that have a “best if used by” date on them. Olive Oil is best used 18 months-2 years from the time the olives were harvested. So if you’ve had a bottle sitting on your counter for a decade, toss it.

Buy olive oil that is in a tinted bottle. It shouldn’t be exposed to light. Or heat. Keep in cool, dry place, but not in the refrigerator.

They all used Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Seemed to be the general consensus.

When using olive oil to sauté garlic, heat the oil at medium (in other words, be patient. Don’t just put it on high to get it hot faster). Then add your garlic.

There is really no need to have a garlic press or to finely chop it. If you just put a clove in (without the skin, obviously), or cut a clove in half, that is enough to infuse the flavor into the olive oil. In fact, these guys, who were from Italy, often let the garlic infuse, then they would take the clove out and throw it away or use it for bread.

Don’t burn your garlic. Apparently we Americans are notorious for overcooking both our pasta and our garlic. The garlic should just be turning color when you either remove the cloves or add the rest of your ingredients. By adding other items, the cooking process naturally slows down and your garlic won’t burn. You can also add some water from your pasta pot (remember: properly salted) to slow down the garlic from burning. Also by adding water that the pasta is boiling in, you can make your sauce creamier, as it has some starch in it from cooking the noodles.

For as many years as I’ve stood with chefs in kitchens from my Food Network job, The Best Of I was surprised that I didn’t know some of these very basics.

One more personal tip I did bring to the table: to get the garlic smell off your hands, rub your fingers on stainless steel. I often use the sides of my kitchen sink. It neutralizes the odor.

Any other tips you have to share? Or questions? I feel like an expert now!

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  1. by iriediva

    On September 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Oh these are great tips and right on time as I’m planning pasta for dinner tomorrow!

  2. by jyl johnson pattee

    On September 21, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Great tips! I never knew that about not washing your pasta.

  3. by Caroline @TheOliveOrchard

    On September 22, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Thanks for the olive oil tips!

    I’ve learned more than I thought I’d ever know about olive oil over the past few years (see link). As you recommend, fresh is best when it comes to extra virgin olive oil (as with so many foods). A fresh extra virgin offers more flavor and health benefits than any other grade of olive oil. An authentic extra virgin is essentially a pure fruit juice — no refining, no processing, no chemicals.

    A common myth is that one should not cook with EVOO. In reality, the smoke point of an extra virgin is directly related to its acidity level — the lower the acidity, the higher the smoke point. All authentic extra virgin olive oils contain acidity levels below 0.8% with smoke points up to 425.


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