The formula for pasta seems oh-so-obvious: water + pasta = dinner—right? But sometimes it’s the supposedly simple things that prove to be the trickiest.
It turns out the window for pasta perfection—not too mushy yet not too chewy—is dangerously slim. And then there are all the other factors to consider. Should you add salt to the water? Or oil? What about a cold-water rinse at the end?
If your head is spinning (ours certainly is!), take a deep breath and let go of the pasta panic. We’ve assembled the best (and easiest) tips for excellent pasta every time.
Steps 1. Use a large pot.
Pick a roomy pot that gives the pasta plenty of space to move. As in, don’t reach for the dinky covered pot you use to boil a pair of eggs—it’ll crowd the pasta into a tight ball. Instead, this is a good time to call that eight-or 12-quart stockpot into action.
2. Load up the pot with lots of water.
When you’re hungry and want to get to spaghetti time stat, you might be tempted to use less water so it comes to a boil quicker. Don’t. Just like pasta needs a roomy pot, it also needs plenty of H2O so it can be totally submerged. (Any strand sticking out above water won’t get cooked.) You want five or six quarts for a standard package of pasta.
3. Salt the water.
Then salt, salt, and salt again! Don’t just give a single tap of the shaker—you want to use at least a tablespoon. You know when you get a mouthful of seawater at the beach and it’s disgustingly salty? You want that level of salty. This gives the pasta a flavor boost. Trust us, everything starchy tastes better with a generous hit of salt.
4. Bring the water to a full, rolling boil.
Again, don’t let hanger make you dump in the pasta when the water is at a mere simmer. That could result in a few raw, uncooked pieces—truly heartbreaking for any carb lover.
5. Keep stirring.
Don’t stray from the pot to see what people are tweeting or settle in for another episode of House of Cards—you’re on pasta stirring duty! Stand guard and stir the pot at least two or three times during cooking. (Or keep at it the whole time and get a mini biceps workout.) The benefit: Occasionally stirring the pot will keep your pasta from clumping.
6. Test the pasta two minutes before it’s “ready.”
Check the pasta packaging for the cook times, but don’t assume that time is gospel. About two minutes till go time, start checking the pasta’s doneness. Using a slotted spoon (or your utensil of choice), fish out a single strand of pasta, let it cool, then bite into it. In general, you want pasta that’s springy and chewy (but not like a stick of hardened gum). Everyone has different opinions on pasta, though. Italian chef Mario Batali prefers his pasta cooked just past the point of raw, a.k.a. “toothsome.” No matter your preference, it’s better to err on the side of al dente, as overcooked pasta will break down and become carby mush.
7. Save a scoop of pasta water.
Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, take two seconds to do this little step that most home cooks skip: Before you drain the water, save a single cup. This starchy water can work wonders in sauces, binding the sauce and pasta together, and breaking down thicker sauces so they’re less likely to clump at the bottom of your bowl.
8. Drain, stir with sauce, and enjoy.
Place a colander in the kitchen sink and drain your pasta. Put the drained pasta back into the pot with sauce (or into the saucepan if the sauce is still cooking), add your pasta water, toss, and serve.
Cooking times can vary according to pasta shape, amount, and type (whole-wheat, gluten-free, etc.).
Unlike dried pasta, fresh pasta takes only two or three minutes to cook, max.
Stuffed pasta, like ravioli, will rise to the surface and float when ready.
Don’t add any oil to the pasta water. Some cooks are under the false assumption that a glug of olive oil will keep the strands from clumping. But that’s nothing a good stir won’t solve, plus oil could leave your pasta too slick for saucing.
Don’t do a cold-water rinse on your pasta when it’s done cooking. That washes away all the happy starches that bind it to the sauce. (And the delicious salty flavor!)
Everyone’s heard warnings about the “freshman 15.” But is it true that many college students pack on 15 pounds during their first year at school?
Recent studies find that some first-year students are indeed likely to gain weight — but it might not be the full freshman 15 and it may not all happen during freshman year. That might sound like good news, but it’s not. Doctors are concerned that students who gradually put on pounds are establishing a pattern of weight gain that could spell trouble if it continues.
Which of these things might you try as a way to avoid the freshman 15?
Studies show that students on average gain 3 to 10 pounds during their first 2 years of college. Most of this weight gain occurs during the first semester of freshman year.
College offers many temptations. You’re on your own and free to eat what you want, when you want it. You can pile on the portions in the dining hall, eat dinners of french fries and ice cream, and indulge in sugary and salty snacks to fuel late-night study sessions. In addition, you may not get as much exercise as you did in high school.
College is also a time of change, and the stress of acclimating to school can trigger overeating. People sometimes eat in response to anxiety, homesickness, sadness, or stress, and all of these can be part of adapting to being away at school.
Should I Worry About the Weight?
Some weight gain is normal as an adolescent body grows and metabolism shifts. But pronounced or rapid weight gain may become a problem.
Weight gain that pushes you above the body’s normal range carries health risks. People who are overweight are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breathlessness, and joint problems. People who are overweight when they’re younger have a greater likelihood of being overweight as adults. Poor diet and exercise habits in college can start you on a path that later could lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or obesity, and may increase your risk for developing certain cancers.
Even without weight gain, unhealthy food choices also won’t give you the balance of nutrients you need to keep up with the demands of college. You may notice that your energy lags and your concentration and memory suffer. Studies have found that most students get fewer than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
What If I Gain Weight?
If you do gain weight, don’t freak out. Take a look at your eating and exercise habits and make adjustments. In a study in which freshmen gained 4 pounds in 12 weeks, the students were only eating an average of 174 extra calories each day. So cutting out one can of soda or a midnight snack every day and being more active will help you get back on track.
It may be tempting to go for the easy fix, like skipping meals or trying the latest fad diet. But these approaches don’t work to keep weight off in the long run. It’s best to make small adjustments to your diet that you know you can stick with.
How Can I Avoid Gaining Weight?
The best way to beat weight gain is to prevent it altogether. Good habits like a balanced diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can do more than keep the pounds off — they also can help you stay healthy and avoid problems down the line. Adopting some simple practices can have a big impact today and years from now.
Take a sound approach to eating. Here are some easy ways to adopt a healthy food attitude:
avoid eating when stressed, while studying, or while watching TV
eat at regular times and try not to skip meals
keep between-meal and late-night snacking to a minimum
choose a mix of nutritious foods
pick lower-fat options when you can, such as low-fat milk instead of whole milk or light salad dressing instead of full-fat dressing
keep healthy snacks like fruit and vegetables on hand in your room
replace empty-calorie soft drinks with water or skim milk
Be aware of your attitude toward food. If you find yourself fixating on food or your weight, or feeling guilty about what you eat, talk to your doctor or ask someone at the student health center for advice.
Learn about nutrition. Many schools have nutrition counselors. If yours does not, talk to someone on the student health services staff about nutrition and how to make good choices in the dining hall.
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Weight
Making a few lifestyle changes can help people manage their weight. Here are some you can try:
Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption. Not only can excess drinking lead to health problems, but beer and alcohol are high in calories and can cause weight gain. (Why do you think it’s called a beer belly?)
Smoking is another culprit. Although cigarettes may suppress the appetite, smoking can make exercise and even normal activity such as walking across campus or climbing stairs more difficult — not to mention causing heart and lung problems and increasing your risk of cancer.
Many smokers who quit find they have more energy, so battle the extra pounds by exercising. You can avoid gaining weight and increase your chances of quitting if you do. If you want to stop smoking, you don’t have to go it alone. Someone at your student health center can direct you to smoking-cessation programs and give you the tips and support you need to quit.
Get enough exercise. Researchers found that students who exercised at least 3 days a week were more likely to report better physical health, as well as greater happiness, than those who did not exercise. They were also more likely to report using their time productively.
Reaping the benefits of exercise does not have to be as difficult as it might seem. Try to work 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your schedule each day (like walking, jogging, swimming, or working out at the gym) and you’ll feel and see the results. For other options, check out biking or hiking trails or sign up for a martial arts class. Attending a class on a regular schedule can motivate some people to stick with their fitness goals.
If you don’t like organized forms of exercise, you can work at least 30 minutes of exercise into your daily schedule by walking briskly across campus instead of taking the bus, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or cycling to class. And take time — even just a few minutes here and there — to move around and stretch when you’ve been sitting for a long time, such as during study sessions.
Get enough sleep. Recent studies have linked getting enough sleep to maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep is also a great way to manage the stress that can prompt overeating. So make sleep a priority, and try to work in a regular 7 or 8 hours each night.
Here are some ways to make the most of your sleep:
keep a regular sleeping schedule by getting up and going to bed at about the same time every day
don’t nap too much
avoid caffeine in the evening
avoid exercising, watching TV, or listening to loud music before bed
Gaining weight during the first year of college is not inevitable. You may have your ups and downs, but a few simple changes to your daily routine can help you fend off excess weight while keeping you physically and mentally healthy.
Balance though. It’s something we all struggle with; I have yet to meet someone who feels they perfectly balance each aspect of work-life-kids-relaxation-hobbies-etc. We thought we would start the year with a slightly tongue-and-cheek look at how to practice the art of relaxation.
Accept the Art of the Hammock Hammock-time just screams for a good book. I spent a lot of hammock time reading on my Kindle, working my way through a heap of travel books in my queue. While in Mexico I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The China Study, The Gifts of Imperfection, and No Touch Monkey, among about 15 others. (Heads up: a review post is in the works for some of the travel and non-travel books I’ve read and loved recently.) The key here was to put everything down and prioritize hammock time, to include it in the list of things that needed to get done, not just the “if I time” list. Find a shady spot Hearing distance from the ocean is ideal Keep an iced beverage within reach for maximum relaxation Resist any form of sightseeing—just hammock time Learn the Art of Play Hunt down kids or puppies (bonus points for the two together) and volunteer, chase a dog on the beach, etc. Join a beach volleyball game, they always need another team member Ride a bicycle—made me feel 10 Group shot on Las Marietas islands with blue-footed boobies, a day of whale watching, and relaxation on the ocean. A day with friends of: whale watching, dolphin spotting, snorkeling, and hanging with Blue-footed Boobies on Las Marietas islands near Puerto Vallarta. Embrace the Art of Friendship Say yes to meeting up with friends Set a weekly meetup at a coffee shop Join expat Facebook forums for your town Vegan ceviche Vegan ceviche from EntreAmigos: made with sprouts, avocado, cucumber, tomato, red onions, and lime.
Practice the Art of Good Health Shut down the computer and do something (anything) active Integrate more greens into your diet (they really do make a difference, and smoothie-it up if you can’t handle some of them in regular form) Cut out sugars and packaged snacks Surfers paddle out in the gentle waves around Sayulita beach. Surfers paddle out in the gentle waves around Sayulita beach.
Immerse in Art of the Nature Take a hike, swim, or long walk Just sit somewhere and observe what’s nearby Be present in the moment by spending some nature time solo