During my first year of college, I practically ate at the dining halls every single day. It was a meal plan that was covered as part of my dormitory tuition, so why not? After a long stressful day of class, the moment I enter that dining hall, EVERYTHING looks so good. The burgers, the pizza, tacos, fried chicken, sandwiches, and especially the pasta. It was a complete buffet meal 3 times day. After just a few weeks in, I was already gaining massive weight. Of course with time, my dorm mates and I had access to the school gym so we worked out and we became more wise with our eating habits.
By my 2nd year of college, my friends and I rented out an apartment and we no longer had access to the meal plan so we decided to try out cooking. Pasta is typically a go-to dish that most college kids would cook. It’s pretty easy, just boil some pasta in any form, heat up some pasta sauce, then combine them together and feast! Sometimes, we’ll be tired of cooking and just go out for food. When Olive Garden has the all you can eat pasta deal, chances are, you’ll find my friends and I there. Something about their pasta is just far superior in taste than how I cook it.
Something Seems to Be Missing in My Pasta
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Of course, a pasta dish with just the noodles and sauce can be quite bland, and it tastes pretty much like a watered down frozen package of spaghetti. Over the years, I started to experiment around and add other things to it. The flavor to my pasta improved with time and became more nutritious, but you can also make it less healthy like for a cheat day too. These days, you’ll find me adding all sorts of meats and veggies to my pasta.
- Tomatoes (Fresh and/or sun-dried)
- Bell Peppers
- Frozen mixed vegetables package (for healthier pasta)
- Frozen meatball
- Hot dogs
- Chicken nuggets
You might have tried adding some of these to your pasta dish. Some of these are out of the blue, but as a college student, well, my friends and I can get creative.
Here is What You Might Not Have Thought of to Boost the Flavor of Pasta
Even after adding all of the ingredients from above, there are still some additional ways to improve your pasta dish.
You can add salt to the water that you boil the pasta with
There used to be a belief that adding salt to the water will speed up the pasta cooking process. It takes about 8 to 12 minutes to cook pasta regularly. If you add salt to the water, you might speed up the process by perhaps 1 minute so I guess that belief may still be true to some degree (but still rather insignificant).
But I am recommending adding salt here not so much for the slightly quicker cooking process but more so for the flavoring. As you cook your pasta in the salted boiling water, it is actually absorbing some of that salt which gives it more flavor than plain pasta. A spoon of salt added to the water should be sufficient to flavoring your 3 to 4 servings of pasta.
(Although not as healthy) You can add some sugar to your pasta sauce
Have you ever wondered why Filipino pasta like that from Jollibee taste so amazing? I noticed that their pasta tends to be sweeter than most other cultures and it is exactly that. Sugar just makes pasta that much more flavorful.
Combine the pasta WITH the sauce and cook it all together once again
Just like the salt and sugar concept, by cooking your pasta in the medium in which you will be eating your pasta with, it gives time for the sauce and flavoring to be infused into your pasta. This will lead to a more tasty pasta. In the past, I would cook the sauce and pasta separately and leave it separately. Whenever I am ready to eat, I would then scoop up some pasta into my bowl and then pour the pasta sauce over it. You can say this taste like a more “watered down” version pasta (especially if you haven’t thoroughly drained the pasta after boiling it). Cooking it all together again makes a HUGE difference.
ALWAYS taste test your pasta
This is probably the most critical step when cooking pasta. Beginner cooks like myself used to think it is simply just cooking everything and then eating it. But by tasting the pasta as you are cooking it, you will have a much better idea of the progress and what flavors it could be missing that matches your taste buds. You can then add flavors accordingly.
Add shredded cheese to your pasta
Somehow I have a tendency to forget adding this unless I am at a restaurant like Olive Garden and they ask if I want it. Keeping a bottle of Parmesan cheese nearby at home when you are about to eat pasta will always be a good reminder. It just makes your pasta that much more flavorful.
Lastly, top off your finished pasta product with some type of green, chopped up vegetable
This can be in the form of cilantro, basil, mint, or parsley. I don’t necessarily add those vegetables for the nutritional content but more so for the food coloring. Something about the vivid green color of those vegetables on top of the pasta dish just really makes it look that much more appealing. I also prefer fresh cilantro, mint, or parsley over the dried, flaky bottled kind and again, it is more so for the coloring effect. To some people, it actually adds flavoring.
Also, I do not add that while cooking the pasta. This is because the cilantro, mint, and parsley lose its structural integrity and color as it becomes cooked. It looks a little sad but that’s just me.
There are many ways of cooking pasta and there is no one correct way to do it. A lot of these strategies came from trial and error. It also keeps things a bit more fun and interesting because you won’t know for sure how your pasta will turn out. My pasta dish will continue to evolve depending on my circumstances. Hope this makes cooking pasta more fun for you and remember to clean up well! Please enjoy cooking and eating your pasta dish!
Did you enjoy these life hacks for making pasta and find them helpful? Did you have other suggestions? Please leave a comment (or your ideas) below!