Making the Most of Pasta

We had whole-wheat spaghetti with beef meatballs and tomato sauce for dinner. (Surprisingly, the 2-year-old wasn’t that into it.) Spaghetti with meatballs is one of those classic American dishes, and it’s easy to throw together on a busy weeknight. When we sat down to eat, I took a bite and started zoning out. My husband asked what I was thinking, and I said, “About methods for cooking pasta.” There are a few simple techniques you can bring to an ordinary pasta dish to make it its best, even if you’re using store-bought spaghetti and bottled sauce like I did tonight:

1. Boil the pasta in lots of salt water. I have a tall pot that holds about 1.5 gallons of water that I use for household quantities of pasta. I add a small handful of Kosher salt to the water after it comes to a hard boil, and then I stir in my pasta. You want pasta water to be salty, because the salt will get into the noodles and give them some flavor.

2. Don’t cook the noodles completely in the water. Remove them when they’re nearly done and toss them in the pasta sauce. Add some of the starchy pasta water if needed to prevent sticking. This allows the flavors of the sauce to absorb into the pasta, and I think the sauce clings better this way, too.

3. If you’re making meatballs, you can cook them right in the tomato sauce. This helps lend a meaty flavor to the sauce, and it gives the meatballs some of the savor of tomato. I usually make my meatballs with low-fat ground beef. If you use something like 80/20 beef for your meatballs, they can make the sauce greasy, so you might want to remove some of the fat from the surface before tossing in the noodles.

4. Sauce from canned tomatoes is almost as easy and quick as bottled sauce. Either is better if augmented with some sauteed onions and garlic.

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