There are few dishes as satisfying as a steaming plate of pasta, especially when it’s enjoyed at the end of a long day. But in addition to the strands of spaghetti or twists of tortellini, there’s another component vital to pasta night—and that’s the sauce.
A noodle is nothing without a sauce to cling to (when’s the last time you sat down to a plate of plain pasta?), which is why it’s important to leverage the pasta’s natural starchiness, so the pasta and the sauce can work together. You don’t need to agonize over the sauce itself, but rather how it's going to adhere to the pasta.
Let’s start at the beginning. After dropping the dry noodles into a pot of boiling water, you may be tempted to add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking. But adding oil will only make the noodles slippery, and prevent them from mixing nicely with the sauce later on. Instead, when you drop the pasta in the water, use a set of tongs (or a spoon) to separate the noodles inside the pot—then stir the pasta occasionally to prevent it from clumping as it cooks.
When you’re ready to drain the pasta, reserve some of the cooking liquid to thicken a tomato sauce, loosen a pesto, or help ricotta adhere to the noodles. Add your sauce of choice immediately after draining, and never rinse the pasta with water. Running water over the noodles will strip them of their starches (which is what helps glue the sauce to the pasta), and will make your dish water-y and less flavorful.
Ready to get cooking? Check out our most popular pasta recipes on Pinterest.