Easy, I thought. Most pasta cookbooks and packet instructions tell me that a 500 gram packet of pasta serves four to six people. Or that a single serving is between 75 and 125 grams of dried pasta, which comes up to the same thing.
But when I actually cooked an entire 500 gram packet of spaghetti for my little party, it turned out to be... A LOT!
Firstly, not everyone ate an entire plateful - what might be considered a "full serving". (Maybe they did not like my pasta, ha ha!) But even if they did, the amount I prepared could easily have served eight or nine people.
Definitely, four people would have difficulty finishing the lot. Six might have been possible if all were very hungry and ate extra large servings. So that got me thinking... Is the usual advice on how much pasta to cook valid?
I had long suspected that the standard recommendation might be excessive. I live with my sister and normally cook pasta for only two people.
So according to the standard advice on pasta serving sizes, a 500 gram packet of dried pasta would be enough for just two or three meals for the two of us. But no. It was usually enough for four or even five meals.
It seems not many people really know how much pasta to cook. Some even suggested using a "pasta measurer", which is describe as "a round thing with holes in it for various sizes of spaghetti". Yet even such a precise and "scientific" method won't tell you how much pasta to cook when it comes to other pasta shapes like penne or fusilli.
So a better way to decide how much pasta to cook is still to weigh it.
From what I understand (do correct me if I am wrong), the recommendation of 75 to 125 grams (approx 2.6 to 4.4 ounces) of dried pasta per person is the "industry standard" - the amount served by high-end restaurants that adhere to specifications to ensure consistency. The smaller amount is for pasta served as a starter and the larger amount is for pasta served as a main course.
But I wonder... is this the standard for Italians, or perhaps Americans, who might have hearty appetites? I remember having a full four-course Italian meal - of antipasta, pasta, main course and dessert - while on a tour in Italy some years back and I found the meal very, very heavy.
And yes, there are heavy eaters around. During my Internet research on how much pasta to cook, I even came across one guy who cooks nearly half a packet of pasta for himself each time.
Unless you and your family / guests have huge appetites, the standard recommendation for pasta serving sizes is probably excessive. I think 50 to 75 grams might be a more realistic amount.
Ultimately, unless you are running a restaurant, there is no fixed amount to follow. It depends on how much you and your family members / guests can eat. You need to adjust according through trial and error, or just follow your instinct.
Cooking pasta for a crowd
Just a note on how much pasta to cook for a crowd. From experience, I find that people generally tend to eat less at parties - partly because there tends to be a lot of other foods, and also because people spend more time talking and socialising than eating.
So when cooking pasta for a crowd, it is safe to cook even less, maybe work on just 40 to 50 grams of dried pasta per person, or one 500 gram packet for, say, 12 to 14 people. The trouble is, party hosts might feel embarassed if the food runs out.
But then, do you want to keep eating leftover pasta for the next few days?
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