Ready to really step up your pasta game? With just a few simple adjustments, you can take even the most basic pasta dish to the next level. Here are a few of our favorite tips for putting together delicious pasta dishes.
1. SEASON WELL
Even if you do nothing else differently, taking the extra time to make sure your pasta water is properly salted can make a world of difference in the finished dish. Pasta only boils for a few minutes, so it only has a little bit of time to absorb seasoning while cooking; heavily salting the water ensures that the pasta is seasoned from the inside out. Any salt added afterward will stick to the outside, which could make your pasta taste salty, rather than “well-seasoned.”
To properly salt your pasta water: wait until your water is at a rolling boil. (Adding salt earlier can increase boiling times.) Then, add big pinches of kosher salt until the water tastes as salty as the sea. This might seem like a lot of salt, but don’t worry! Almost all of it will end up going down the drain after cooking, leaving nothing but delicious, perfectly seasoned pasta behind.
2. hold the oil
Speaking of pasta water: be sure to keep your olive oil out of it. While some cooks swear by it for adding flavor or preventing the pasta shapes from sticking together, scientifically, oil and water don’t mix. (Unless emulsified, like in a mayonnaise.) That means that that olive oil is actually coating each pasta shape to prevent sticking. But that coating also prevents them from being fully coated by your sauce at the end! Well-cooked pasta doesn’t stick to itself by default, so giving the water a few stirs just after adding your pasta to the boiling water should be more than enough to keep clumps at bay. And, if you’re missing that olive oil flavor, you’re more than welcome to drizzle it over the finished product.
3. ADD SOME PASTA PANACHE
Did you know? Each pasta shape was designed for a different culinary purpose that can affect the taste and texture of your finished dish. Ridged or otherwise textured shapes hold onto sauces beautifully, and longer or thicker noodles can add more chew to each bite. And there’s even more to explore — that’s why we launched three different ZENB Pasta shapes! Reach for ZENB Rotini when you’re looking for a playful, plant-based twist to delight kids and the young-at-heart, pair ZENB Penne with rich, robust sauces, and opt for ZENB Elbows for a more wholesome take on comfort dishes like mac and cheese.
There’s also a whole rainbow of pasta options that can add different flavors to your dish. Black squid ink pasta adds bitterness, Non-wheat based pastas can add a different flavor and more nutritional value to your meal, too, though they might have a different texture from traditional pasta. If you don’t want to compromise: ZENB Pasta, made from 100% yellow peas, has tons of plant-powered nutrition and the same flavor and texture as traditional pasta. Win-win!
4. DEGLAZE THE PAN
That pesky, brown, stuck-on stuff that forms on the bottom of your pan while cooking — also known as fond — is actually a powerful ingredient in making great sauces. Fond, usually found after browning meat or sauteing aromatics like onions or garlic, is densely flavorful and is a key component to making delicious pan sauces — once it’s deglazed.
To deglaze your pan, simply splash ¼ cup or less of wine into the pan with your ingredients and scrape lightly to release. If you’re refraining from alcohol, use chicken stock, cream, or water. You can also reserve a cup of pasta cooking water, which retains starches from the cooking process, and use that to help deglaze your pan or bind together your finished sauce. You can simply let this liquid cook down and re-absorb into the ingredients, or you can use it as a base for your sauce. Try deglazing the fond from sauteing garlic with a little white wine, then cook it down with some butter and pasta water to create an easy white wine garlic sauce for pasta.
5. FINISH STRONG
You may be tempted, once it’s time to serve, to simply ladle some sauce over your cooked pasta. But if you want a truly restaurant-quality dish, you’ll want to add pasta to your sauce — not the other way around. Spending a few minutes to finish your pasta in the pan with the sauce helps flavors meld together, and helps the sauce coat each pasta shape thoroughly. Plus, all the starches left on the pasta will help your sauce become even more velvety and delicious. Just a few tosses or stirs on the burner for a few minutes can help elevate even the simplest preparation. And don’t be afraid to knock the heat down a little if you’re worried about over-cooking your pasta.