I like pasta, a lot. My wife she no likey the pasta so much. What to do? For one, I admit that the way I cook pasta is the standard American half-assed way to cook it. So, having one of the better chefs in the area at my disposal, I asked him how I might improve my success with this most basic of staples.
His first piece of advice was to make my own sauce, but that takes a lot of time. So I'll do that, and then store it in jars for later use, but I didn't have the chance to do that last night. His next mainframe point was that the water should be salty. As in salty as shit. I usually put a few pinches of salt in the water. No. Tablespoons - multiple - is the answer. Think "brine". Next is that 95% of pasta is ruined by overcooking. More on this later.
The sauce needs to be cooked in a pot, and the pot should be reasonably large. More on this later as well. Start by heating some oil in said pot, and then adding a generous amount of fresh minced garlic. He likes garlic, but not a crazy amount. The heat should be low at this point, otherwise the garlic will caramelize prematurely. When the garlic starts to cook, add in your sauce (if you are making your sauce, this is where you start doing so). Again, low heat. Stir often and season to suit. Seasoning during cooking is better than seasoning all at once at the end. Fresh oregano is great, but I'm a philistine I guess. We are trying to make a nice dinner here, not open a noodle shop.
If you are doing a protein, do that while the sauce is going. For the record, I used Whole Foods Classic Tomato Sauce. Anyhow, I made chicken, which I do well. Heat oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, add chicken breasts. I prefer them not too thick - filets, but not the thin ones for scallopini. Anyway, after the flip, tent the pan with foil. Trust me on this. Again, heat is pretty low.
Now for the pasta. The water is at a FULL ROLLING boil when the pasta goes in. Cook it until it's bendy but still firm in the middle. Then, using a pasta scoop, scoop the pasta into the sauce pot. The final two or three minutes of cooking is done with sauce and pasta together. The sauce will bind to the pasta, which is when you scoop in a little of the water you cooked the pasta in. Remember that this water is SALTY so having your shit a little under-salted at this point is a good thing. You want the sauce to remain liquid but not soupy, so be measured in how you add water.
You can add the protein to the pot, or you can serve it on top, it's up to you. I chunk it and mix it in. Last step is to add fresh grated cheese. I used aged manchego last night, but you just want something along the hard, salty lines.
This is probably basic as shit for anyone who actually knows how to cook, but let me tell you, the shit was FANTASTIC. Like, I couldn't believe I'd cooked it. Total sucess. Nice.
Before all this, I'd done my first strength training of the off season. It's been a long time since I've had real pronounced delayed onset muscle soreness. I don't love the gym, and though my age qualifies me for the sequel to The Expendables, my body's proclivity to adapt to any stress by becoming ever more stick like means that I don't get much positive reinforcement from checking out how jacked I am. Nonetheless, I'm committed to this. It's happening.