Cooking pasta al dente is a snap when you know how. Charlie Wilson demonstrates the best way to cook perfect pasta while making a simple and versatile vegetable pasta salad, and talks about which noodles are best for which types of sauces and recipes.

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Video Transcript

Hello there again. My name is Charlie Wilson. Today's episode will be talking about choosing and cooking the right pasta.

Pasta is a common staple of most of our kitchens here in America. Generally, pasta is made from wheat flour, although there are varieties ranging from potato to rice to mung bean, even.

Types of pasta and uses

Pasta falls into two basic categories: noodles and shapes.

Generally, noodles will be better for a smooth, consistent sauce such as tomato sauce, simple oils, or vinaigrettes.

In general, our shaped pasta will do better with a chunky sauce, seeing as how the nooks and crannies of each pasta can grab the sauce and hold it. Shapes with ridges like rotini are especially great for pesto, while tube-shaped pastas like penne will be great with any type of meat sauce. These pasta shapes also work well in salads, since they are easily stabbed with a fork.

Cooking pasta

In cooking the perfect pasta there are a few tricks you will want to learn and maintain. Today I'll be sharing some tricks to cooking the perfect pasta while making a simple vegetable pasta salad.

We will begin by filling our pot with water. It's important to add enough water to your pot so the pasta can move around. I like to add some salt. This will add flavor to the pasta and help decrease your cooking time.

So the water is boiling. Now it's time to add our whole-wheat fusilli.

We're cooking our pasta "al dente" today, which literally means “to the tooth.” If you overcook your pasta, the noodles will stick together, and you will end up with a starchy, lumpy mess. As you're checking the pasta throughout the process, what you are looking for is a cooked-through pasta that is still a bit firm. And I think this pasta is ready to go.

Before I strain, I am reserving one cup of this pasta water. This comes in handy when you need a little more liquid in your sauce.

And the starch in the water will help the sauce adhere to the pasta. Pasta will continue to cook after you drain the hot water, so if you are making a cold dish, it's good to shock it in an ice bath.

Simple vegetable pasta salad

It's time to cut some vegetables. We will be using a red onion, yellow bell pepper and a red bell pepper.

And for the vinaigrette, we will be adding some red wine vinegar and a bit of our starch water from the pasta. Some people will add oil to the water, whereas I prefer to add oil at the end, and this is all in order to keep the pasta from sticking to one another.

Add my vegetables, some seasoning, and I'll be finishing with fresh herbs—a couple leaves of fresh basil and some fresh parsley. Now we are doing a rough chop on our parsley. All right.

Stir this together, and that's it! A simple pasta salad! With the wonderful colors.

I'm Charlie Wilson for Co+op, stronger together.