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10 Tips to Do Pasta Night Right

pasta with broccolini

From spaghetti to ravioli to fusilli, pasta is a pantry staple in many of our kitchens. What’s not to love about it? It’s endlessly versatile and it’s easy to cook, as long as you stick to a few guidelines. Avoid a pasta mishap by following these helpful cooking tips, then try some of our favorite easy recipes.

Use a big enough pot.

During cooking, pasta can expand in volume up to three times its original size. So you’ll want to be sure you leave plenty of room in your pot.

Use plenty of water.

Fill your pot with at least 2 quarts for each ½ pound of pasta. This will help prevent your pasta from sticking together during cooking (and no one wants that!).

Season the pasta water —

After filling your pot with water, season generously with salt. Don't worry, it won't all soak into the pasta. It also won’t bring your cooking water to a boil faster! Adding salt means more savory, flavorful results when the pasta is cooked. How much should you add? Some say the water should taste just like the sea.

but skip the oil.

You may have heard that adding oil to your cooking water prevents the pasta from sticking during cooking. Is it true? Maybe, but it will do more harm than good. In fact, any oil clinging to your pasta once drained will prevent the sauce from absorbing properly.

Let the water come to a boil first.

Wait until the water comes to a rapid, aggressive boil before adding your pasta. Throwing in the pasta too early when the water isn’t hot enough can result in some sticky, gummy noodles. Patience, friend.

Stir right away — and every couple minutes.

Give your pasta a good stir right after you add it to your pot to break up any initial clumps. Then stir every couple minutes to make sure it stays broken up and ensure even cooking.

Don’t rely solely on the cooking time on your pasta’s package.

There are many factors that play into how quickly pasta cooks, so test for doneness early and often. You want the pasta to feel firm and slightly resistant (almost springy) when you bite into it. If it sticks to your teeth while chewing, it's not ready. Oh, and resist the temptation to throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it will stick. As much fun as that may be, it doesn't tell you anything useful about the state of your noodles.

Cook your pasta to just before al dente.

Because pasta continues to cook after it’s drained, remove it from the stovetop just before reaching the al dente stage. This is super important for thin pastas like angel hair and for pastas that will be baked with a sauce like lasagna.

Reserve the pasta water.

Reserve a cup of your pasta cooking water right before draining it. This way, you’ll have starchy cooking water within reach for adjusting the consistency of the pasta sauce once everything is mixed together.

Don’t rinse your pasta after it’s been drained.

While it may it seem logical, don’t run cold water over your piping hot pasta. You’ll risk losing the flavorful starches that will help sauces cling to it later.

Now, put our tips to the test with these easy pasta recipes that use spaghetti, penne, bowtie and more:

Not Your Nonna’s Spaghetti Carbonara
Easy Baked Penne with Ricotta and Basil
Perfect Cacio e Pepe
BLT Pasta Salad
Quick Italian Spinach and Pasta Soup

For more tips and ideas, check out our Guide to Pasta.

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