Although spaghetti often refers to a pasta dish with tomato sauce, it is really just the name of the pasta shape. Spaghetti is an Italian name for long, thin strings of pasta, usually made of semolina flour and water. Because of its shape, spaghetti pairs well with light and thin sauces that will cling to the pasta.
It used to be that buying dried spaghetti meant choosing a brand, but now the selections are numerous. Whole wheat and multigrain spaghettis offer more fiber than the traditional semolina variety. Vegetable pastas, such as spinach or beet, add colorful options. And for gluten-free meals, look for corn, rice, or quinoa spaghetti. As a guide, figure 8 ounces uncooked dried spaghetti for four main-dish servings (4 cups) or 2 ounces dried spaghetti per serving. Store dried spaghetti in the package or in a covered container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.
Tip: An easy way to measure dried spaghetti is to use a measuring tool, which has a series of ring, each holding a different portion size of spaghetti.
Fill a large pot with plenty of cold water (use 3 quarts water for 4 to 8 ounces dried spaghetti). If desired, add a little salt to the water for seasoning. Some people add a tablespoon of olive oil or cooking oil to the water to keep the spaghetti from sticking together, but this isn't necessary as long as you use enough water and stir the spaghetti occasionally during cooking. The downside of using oil in the water is that it tends to keep the sauce from adhering to the pasta. Bring the water to boiling.
Once the water is boiling, add the spaghetti a little at a time so the water doesn't stop boiling. Reduce the heat slightly so the water doesn't boil over; boil, uncovered, until the spaghetti is al dente, using the package directions as a guide for timing.
The desired doneness for pasta is called al dente, which is Italian for "to the tooth." This means cooked until the pasta has a firm, chewy texture. Test near the end of the cooking time by giving the spaghetti a taste. Under-cooked pasta will have a hard core, and overcooked pasta will be sticky and soggy.
When the spaghetti is done, drain it in a colander and shake well to remove excess water that would make the sauce runny. Do not rinse the spaghetti because it removes the light coating of starch that helps the sauce and seasonings cling. Pasta continues to cook after draining, so try to serve it immediately.
Tip: If your drained spaghetti needs to sit before using, return it to the warm cooking pan (off the heat), toss it with a little butter or olive oil to prevent sticking, and cover for up to 15 minutes.
Once you know how to cook spaghetti, try your hand at homemade marinara sauce. It's quick, easy, and ready in under an hour.
Finely chop 1 large onion, 1 medium carrot, and 1 stalk celery. In a large saucepan cook onion, carrot, celery, and 3 cloves minced garlic in 2 tablespoons hot oil over medium heat about 10 minutes or until very tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in two 15-ounce cans tomato sauce, 1 cup water, 1 cup dry red wine, 3 tablespoons snipped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning, 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, 3 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Bring sauce to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes, stirring occasionally or until desired consistency. Makes about 4-3/4 cups sauce. If desired, ladle cooled sauce into freezer containers and freeze for up to 3 months.
Start with cooked spaghetti topped with marinara sauce.
1. Cooked and drained crumbled sweet or spicy Italian sausage.
2. Shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese made by scraping a vegetable peeler across the chunk of cheese.
3. Slivered Kalamata olives, crumbled feta cheese, and snipped fresh oregano.
4. Snipped oil-pack dried tomatoes, snipped fresh basil, and coarsely chopped marinated artichoke hearts.
5. Shredded fresh spinach and crumbled crisp-cooked bacon.
6. Long, thin ribbons of carrot, zucchini, and/or summer squash sauteed with minced garlic in olive oil.
7. Crumbled blue cheese and toasted pine nuts.
8. Purchased cooked meatballs and grated pecorino cheese.
9. Sauteed chopped leeks and sliced mushrooms with chopped toasted almonds.
10. Roasted red sweet peppers and shredded Asiago cheese.