How to Cook Pasta.
Boil the water, add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Easy, right? Not so fast. When it comes to cooking pasta just right, there are many nuances that can affect the taste and texture of the final dish.
Learn how to cook pasta, the authentic Italian way, with our nonna-approved guide below!
- MEASURE THE PASTA
How much pasta should you cook per person?
If you have a kitchen scale, weigh out the uncooked pasta first. Measure out about 100 to 125 grams (3 ½ to 4 ½ ounces) per person if serving it as a main course and 75 grams (about 2 ½ ounces) per person if serving it as a first course with more dishes to follow. Note that these measurements are just guidelines. If you have hungry guests, you can, of course, cook more!
- BOIL THE WATER
How much water should you use?
Use about 4 quarts of water for every 1 pound of pasta. In general, the more pasta you are cooking, the more water you should use to prevent the pasta from clumping up too much in the pot.
Should you use cold or hot water to start?
When adding the water to the pot, be sure to start with cold water. While warm or hot water will boil faster, it may contain more dissolved minerals from your pipes, giving the water – and anything boiled in it–- a slightly metallic flavor.
Boiling pot of pasta
Spaghetti cooking in a pot
- SALT THE WATER
When should you salt the water?
We recommend salting the water after it has started to boil and just before you are about to add the pasta. Since the water will evaporate as it heats up and boils, waiting until you are ready to add the pasta will ensure that the salt-to-water ratio is correct. If you salt it too early, water will evaporate causing the water to become more salt-concentrated. If this happens, all you need to do is add more water to dilute it and bring it to a boil again.
What type of salt should you use?
We prefer using Kosher salt for two reasons. For one, kosher salt tends to taste “cleaner” while iodized salt can sometimes leave a mineral taste behind. Secondly, in Italy, every Italian keeps two kinds of salt in their kitchen: sale grosso and sale fino. Sale grosso, or “big salt,” is used for pasta water, while sale fino (fine salt) is used for seasoning dishes at the end. We like to keep tradition by sticking to Kosher salt, which is equivalent to sale grosso in Italy.
How much salt should you use?
Answer: it depends! In general, a good rule of thumb is to salt the water generously until it tastes like the sea. Still, for cooks that need precise measurements, our chefs recommend using 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons of kosher salt for every 1 pound of pasta and 4 quarts of water.
- COOK UNTIL AL DENTE
Should you cover the pasta when cooking it?
It’s okay to put a lid on the pot while you are waiting for the water to boil. However, after it starts to boil and you add the pasta to the water, you should remove the lid to prevent the water from bubbling over.
How do you know when the pasta is cooked?
Many pasta packages will include a recommended cooking time. These are great guidelines but aren’t always the most accurate way to know if your pasta is perfectly al dente. And while it might seem fun, launching the pasta against the wall to see if it will stick is not exactly the best technique either!
Rather, the best way to know if your pasta is ready is to taste it. After a few minutes, fish out a piece of pasta and give it a bite. It should be toothsome, but not too hard. After you take a bite, observe the inside of the pasta to make sure it has a uniform color and is cooked through its core.
Slotted spoon with spaghetti pasta
- DRAIN THE PASTA
Should you use a slotted spoon or a strainer?
If you are serving the pasta warm with a sauce, simply use a slotted spoon to remove the pasta from the boiling water and add it directly to the pan with the sauce. Stir everything together until the sauce has coated the pasta entirely. This method of straining will maintain the starch from the pasta and as a result, thicken the sauce. With this technique, you can also scoop out a ladleful of the remaining pasta water and add it to the sauce if it becomes too dry.
Should you rinse pasta after cooking it?
For warm pasta dishes, no. Rinsing it will remove all the starches which help the pasta to absorb and thicken the sauce. If you are making a cold pasta salad, then its okay to rinse it. Use a colander to drain the pasta, dumping the pasta and water over the strainer. Then, lightly rinse with cold water to keep the pasta from sticking and keep its al dente bite.
Should you add olive oil to keep it from sticking?
No, you should never add olive oil to the water or to the pasta after draining. While it might help the pasta strands from sticking to each other, olive oil will also block other sauces from sticking to the pasta.
- COMBINE WITH THE SAUCE
Should you put the pasta in the sauce or the sauce on the pasta?
For most pasta dishes, you should add the cooked pasta directly to the sauce. In Italy, this process is known as mantecare. Literally meaning “to mix, blend, or mingle,” this final step is when the sauce and the pasta become one harmonious dish!
To mantecare properly, heat the sauce in a pan large enough to hold the pasta. Once the pasta is about one minute away from being completely cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the boiling water and add it to the pan with the sauce. Stir everything together on low heat, coating the pasta completely in the sauce. The starch from the pasta will give the sauce a creamier consistency, causing it to better “stick” to the pasta.
Note that this technique works best for sauces that have already been “cooked,” such as tomato sauces or vegetable sauces. For pesto sauces, you don’t want to heat the sauce too much which will cause the basil to oxidize and turn brown.
Pro tip: Gently warm your serving bowls in the oven on low heat before plating. This will keep the entire pasta dish warm by the time it reaches the table!