Pasta: it's the perfect go-to, last-minute, weeknight-crunch meal. But it can also be an elegant dish worthy of serving to company. Either way, it's worth knowing how to cook pasta well.
The directions on a box of pasta are deceptively simple. There's more to turning out a delicious pot of pasta than boiling water and cooking for 10-12 minutes. Keep reading to learn more about the do's and don'ts of cooking pasta at home. We bet you'll want to try out these tips and tricks right away.
How to Cook Pasta: Before You Start
1. Buy semolina pasta
If you aren't making fresh pasta (no judgment; it's quite a project), make sure the pasta you buy is made from semolina flour. This hard wheat flour ensures your pasta will retain its shape and texture while cooking.
2. Fill a large pot with plenty of cold water
A huge stockpot or pasta pot may seem like overkill, but remember pasta expands as it cooks.
How to Cook Pasta: While Cooking
3. Wait for the water to boil before adding salt
Salt raises the boiling point of water. Not by much, but do you want to watch that pot any longer than necessary?
4. Wait for the water to boil before adding pasta
Adding the pasta before the water is at a rolling boil makes it more likely to stick and clump.
5. Add salt, but don't add oil
Salt helps season the pasta and keeps it from getting slimy. Contrary to popular wisdom, oil doesn't keep pasta from sticking. It floats to the surface of the water, and it can keep sauce from adhering to pasta.
6. Stir, stir, stir
Stir your pasta within the first minute or two of cooking; this is the best way to keep it from sticking and clumping. Stir occasionally during the rest of the cooking time.
How to Cook Pasta: Before It's Done
7. Save a cup of water
Either toward the end of the cooking time or as you're draining the pasta, save a small amount of pasta water. Mix it into the sauce to help adhere better to the pasta. You can even transfer it to a small saucepan and reduce it by half to concentrate the starch.
8. Simmer your sauce
Have your sauce hot and ready for the pasta on another burner. That's where your pasta is going to go after you drain it.
How to Cook Pasta: After It's Done
9. Don't rinse your pasta
The starch left on the surface of your pasta helps sauce adhere to it. If you rinse your pasta, you rinse away that starch, and your sauce won't stick as well.
10. Add pasta to sauce, not the reverse
This is our favorite tip of all: Instead of ladling sauce onto your pasta, finish cooking your pasta in the sauce. Add a spoonful of pasta water and stir, and repeat until your pasta is evenly coated in sauce.