Reader Johanna asked me how I got my pasta strands not to stick together.
I replied: with difficulty.
The stock answers to the question are (a) use a larger pot and more water, (b) salt the water well, (c) add oil to the water, and (d) do all of the above.
I've had pasta strands stick together in all of these cases. Furthermore, the solutions are not always practical; for example, we don't salt the water when cooking pasta for the children.
I suspect other factors are at play. Pasta quality is one, obviously. Water quality might be another. Water hardness inhibits soap suds; perhaps it also inhibits the action of boiling water 'sealing' each strand of pasta. I don't know. I'm no scientist. I'm just wondering.
My solution is to stir the boiling water gently while adding the strands one at a time so that they float off around the pot like logs setting off down a river. Laborious if you are feeding fifty people. Or even five. But you get used to it. I kind of fan the strands across my right palm and drop them in sequentially, while stirring with my left hand. And around they go.
Square (on the crosscut) pasta such as linguine and bavette is more likely to stick together due to its unrounded surface areas 'clamping' onto other strands.
Shells will often hide inside each other, like stacked chairs, and refuse to come out. Lasagne sheets are notorious for sticking together.
Home-made gnocchi will cleave (is that the only word in the English language with two completely opposite meanings?) to each other. I once made a pot of gnocchi that all stuck together and came out in one bulbous grey shape like a space station from a 1950s B-grade science fiction movie. I ate it anyway. It still tasted good. It was the world's first unpretentious gnoccho.
Fast carbonara with spaghetti alla chittara.
This dish takes virtually no longer than the time it takes to cook the pasta. Local company Da Vinci (their pasta is as good as their website is bad) makes a good chitarra (square-cut spaghetti) that has the slipperiness, flexibility and flavour of fresh pasta. Da Vinci's home page says the company was set up because the founder thought he could make a better standard of dried pasta than others. He's right. The shame is that Da Vinci is not widely available outside the inner suburbs. It should be. Why buy expensive - or even less expensive - Italian imports? It's nothing to do with food miles. It's jobs: the farmer's flour and eggs, the packaging printer and all the rest. Buy enough Da Vinci pasta and they'll be able to afford a web page designer.
Oh, the recipe:
Set the pasta to cook.
While it is doing so, fry a few strips of rindless bacon, chopped into small squares, in a small amount of olive oil. When nearly done, add half a cup of white wine, a chopped garlic clove and a shower of cracked pepper.
Drain pasta when done. Toss into cooked bacon and stir around while adding two eggs. Stir to combine on low heat. Switch off heat as egg sets. A minute will do it. Remove immediately to serving plates. Strew chopped parsley.