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My pasta pot/steamer did not come with directions telling me how full to make it. It seems to boil over or not have enough water to cover the pasta. It is a large pot with the pasta strainer included.

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It seems like your real question is "how do I keep my pasta from boiling over". –  Jefromi Dec 25 '11 at 13:47
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6 Answers 6

The simplest rule of thumb to remember for pasta is 100:10:1 - 100g of pasta to 10g of salt to 1 litre of water. This means you need a big pan if you're cooking for a lot of people, but it works.

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See the link to Kenki Alt's article and the commentary under this answer (cooking.stackexchange.com/a/30079/14401 )--the large volume of water thing turns out not to be necessary. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 14 '13 at 18:54
    
Lack of water always makes my pasta stick <shrug> –  ElendilTheTall Jan 14 '13 at 19:00
    
If the problem is what I think it is, it's that the style of pot doesn't actually allow the pasta to get access to all of the water, which makes the volumetric suggestions not so simple. –  Joe Jan 14 '13 at 21:32
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You specifically mention a "pasta pot/steamer", so I'm going to assume that it's one of those pots with a strainer insert that stays in the pot while you're cooking the pasta. (and then you lift it out to drain the pasta).

The problem with most of them is that they're designed for steaming, and so the insert stops an inch or two below the level of the strainer portion. This means you need more water than you'd need for the pasta in a standard pot; it's only really an advantage if you're making more than one batch, as you can lift it out, dump it, then add more pasta (or vegetables) to already hot water.

The second design flaw in every one that I've seen is that the strainer insert continues a couple of inches past the top of the outer pot. This is great if you're steaming ... but it's a problem because it makes it more difficult to tell where the outer pot ends when you're looking at the inside. You need the water level to stop 3 or more inches below the edge of the outer pot ... if you don't, when you add the pasta and bring it back to a boil, the water flows out of the pot and onto your stove. (and being starchy pasta water, leaves this film you have to scrub off as it instantly boils off).

So ... my advice would be:

  1. fill the pot of water without the insert, and stop about 4 inches (10cm) from the top of the pot. Then insert the strainer if you want to use it. Adjust the distance for bulkier foods that will displace more water (eg, blanching vegetables).
  2. consider not using the strainer in the pot when it's boiling.
  3. consider turning down the heat when the water resumes its boil after adding the pasta, so that it's at a boil, but not overly vigorous (to make it less likely to spill out that seam between the strainer and pot).

And for those considering buying one of these -- if you're going to be using it almost exclusively for boiling and rarely for steaming, look for a strainer that gets close to the bottom of the pot.

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There are two secrets related to water for cooking a good pasta:

  1. the water should cover the pasta so that it all get cooked.
  2. The water should be, if possible, very abundant. pasta, indeed, release starch which might eventually make it a but pastly.

Simple and effective.

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Actually, number 2 above turns out not to be true. See, for example, seriouseats.com/2010/05/… The article also outlines some advantages to pasta water with lots of starch in it. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 14 '13 at 16:14
    
Let me disagree: pasta with a few water has a sligthly different flavour (more starchy) when you eat it. The only way to get rid of it is to rince it a bit with hot water when you drain it. –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 16:21
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That is generally considered an advantage, as it permits the sauce to better bind to the pasta.... –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 14 '13 at 16:22
    
...I never heard of it, but i'll make some experiments :-) –  Daniele B Jan 14 '13 at 16:25
    
Read Kennji's article, linked above... its fascinating :-) I admit, it has given me freedom to have my lunch much faster, because I now make my farfalle for one in just a couple of inches of water, which comes to the boil much more quickly! In truth, the outcome seems just as good to me as filling up the entire pot--I just make to stir it once a minute or so after putting the pasta in so it isn't clumping. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 14 '13 at 16:27
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It is highly recommended to put at least 1 liters of water to 100 gr pasta. So if we have 2 portions of 200 gr pasta each, we must put at least 4 liters of water. And remember to put salt when its boiling, just before you put the pasta into the pot. Good Luck!

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There's two schools of thought to this. I usually roughly half fill the pot with water bring it to the boil, and add pasta to make it roughly 3/4 the way up (I always use the same pot), a splash or two of olive oil (well more than that. The perfect pasta for me smells nice and strongly of olive oil, and edible with nothing else should i choose to, so i add a generous quantity) and salt. I bring it to a boil, and turn down the heat, and keep stirring it. I never had issues with it boiling over.

You can however also start with cold water add the pasta then bring it to the boil. You should use a lot less water in that case. I'm still working on this since i've had perfect results with the first method, and am still breaking the mental barrier to too little salt.

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The pot choice should depend on the amount of water (which depends on the amount of pasta you're cooking) rather than the other way around. For detailed advice on amounts, see these answers (answer 1, answer 2).

Generally (not using fresh pasta or very long pasta when more water is necessary) you just need to cover the pasta. A bit of oil on top will help keep it from boiling over, as will keeping the lid off after it's begun boiling and just simmering it rather than a rolling boil.

With longer pastas like spaghetti you should add more water than just enough to cover the pasta, but as long as the top of the water is more than an inch below the top of the pot (after adding the pasta) you shouldn't have trouble if you follow the precautions above.

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You can also stir it when it starts boiling to keep it from foaming up and boiling over, until you can turn down the heat and keep it at a boil that's not rapid enough to make it boil over. (That's an important part of this answer - don't boil it as fast, and you won't run out of water.) –  Jefromi Dec 25 '11 at 13:45
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Putting oil in pasta water accomplishes precisely nothing. Don't do this. If you're going to be letting it sit for a while after cooking, then you can toss it with some oil then to keep fresh. –  Aaronut Dec 25 '11 at 18:34
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Hervé This, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan... how many sources you want? –  Aaronut Dec 26 '11 at 7:55
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And then there's the episode of Good Eats where Alton recants his previous "no oil on pasta water" because, while it doesn't help sticking, he says is does reduce help with boiling over. –  Gregor Dec 26 '11 at 20:25
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It's true that oil does some funny things to surface tension making it slightly less likely to boil over, which is a trivial concern if you're using a big enough pot and sufficient water. I've never once used oil and never once had a problem with boiling over. People shouldn't waste perfectly good oil on this; it's like vitamin pills, pure superstition most of the time, the only people who actually benefit from them are people who have deficiencies elsewhere. –  Aaronut Dec 26 '11 at 21:30
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