How to Cook Pasta Like a Pro
As Told by The Pros
Ever had pasta that felt like you were eating a soggy mush? Or pasta that felt tough to the bite? Yeah, not ideal.
Pasta isn't complicated, but sometimes it feels like there's tons of unanswered questions you suddenly have just as you're getting ready to dive into that craving of starchy goodness. How much water do I actually need? Do I need a large pot? Do I add oil to the water? Or do I need to salt the water? How much salt?
We've detailed the best way to cook pasta step by step.
1. Use a large pot
And we mean large. Pasta needs room to move. Pick a pot that has the capacity for at least 10 quarts of volume.
2. Be generous with the water
You want 4-5 quarts of water per 1 pound of pasta.
Pasta needs water to cook, and plenty of it, every strand needs to be totally submerged.
If you want your water to boil faster, put a lid on the pot, it'll save you a ton of time.
3. Salt the water
Yes! Pasta loves salt, it needs it! You need at least 1 heaping tablespoon of regular table salt per 1 pound of pasta.
Pasta doesn't have a ton of flavor on its own. Our pasta comprises of just semolina #1, and/or eggs, water and pinch of salt. The addition to salt in the water adds a very necessary flavor.
Your pasta water should taste almost as salty ocean – that salty. You should be able to taste the salt in the water.
Bring the water to a full and rolling boil. You need your pasta cook, it can't do that effectively if your water is at a mere simmer.
When you add your pasta to the boiling water, the temperature of the water is going to quickly drop and will stop the water from boiling. To help bring the water up to a boil, you can put the lid back onto the pot. Take the lid off AS SOON as you hear the water begin to boil.
- When cooking filled-pasta (ravioli, cappelletti, or agnolotti) a full roiling boil can ruin and deflate your pasta. The hard rolling boil will release the seal that holds in the yummy filling, leaving you with a deflated stuff-less pasta. Very disappointing.
- To avoid this, after you place the filled-pasta into the boiling water, return to a full boil then immediately reduce heat until your water is at a soft and gentle boil. Yasss!
- If pasta is frozen (long, short or filled pasta) do not defrost. Prepare frozen.
- You will need to extend your cook time and add an additional 1-2 quarts of water.
- For frozen filled pasta, beging your cook time when the water begins to boil.
5. Stir, not oil
It's a common misconception that adding oil to the pasta water will prevent the pasta from sticking. In fact, adding oil to your pasta water will prevent your pasta sauce from absorbing effectively.
You need to stir your pasta at least 3 times while your water is boiling. You don't want your pasta to clump together.
6. Taste and test
Fresh and dry pasta cook differently. Generally speaking, you should taste and check your pasta two minutes before the recommended cook time.
Take out a few strands and look at the color. Is it a darker color in the middle than on the edges? It's not ready.
How does it feel when you chew it? Does it give but feel firm? It's ready.
Whatever you do, don't overcook the pasta, you can't salvage that. Err on the side of a slightly more al dente feel.
Remember, depending on the dish you're cooking, there may be a cook over time. If you're adding your pasta to a cast iron pan with reduced tomatoes after it's cooked, your pasta is going to continue to cook. In this case, you would want to shorten the time your pasta spends in the water.
7. Save 1 cup of pasta water
This sounds crazy, but this can be a life saver.
Right before you drain the water, scoop out 1 cup. Add a portion of the pasta water back to your prepared pasta to add depth and moisture. The starch and salinity in the water can help to cook your pasta if it's undercooked, you can add it to your sauce to extend the amount of given sauce on hand, or it can thin down a sauce that's too thick.
You'll find that some noodles are really greedy and soak up every bit of sauce. That pasta water will work wonders in situations like this.
8. Drain, sauce, and serve
Drain your pot into a colander. Put the strained pasta into a separate serving bowl, add your sauce, or other pairings and incorporate the ingredients together and serve.
We don't recommend preparing your strained pasta and sauce into the original pot you used to cook your pasta in. The piping hot pot could continue to cook your pasta and leave you with pasta that's slightly more cooked than desired.
However, it is a good way to salvage uncooked pasta.