Here's How to Cook Spaghetti and Other Pasta Like a Professional Chef

Hint: Breaking pasta is a major no-no.

Large pot with salt and spoon
Photo: Anna Williams

What's not to love about pasta for dinner? Our favorite carb is affordable, versatile, and delicious. Whether it's eaten with your favorite sauce or used in soup, some simple dos and don'ts will keep your strands separated, perfect, and tender every time. From using the right cookware to salting the water just right, these pasta tips will help you cook spaghetti and other noodles to perfection.

How to Cook Pasta

Step 1: Use a Large, Lightweight Pot

Use a large pot that holds at least seven quarts. The lighter the pot, the better; the water will boil faster than with a heavy stockpot and―also key―return to a boil quickly after you add the pasta. If you use too small of a pot, the water temperature drops too quickly when you add the pasta. This makes it harder for the water to come back to a boil.

Step 2: Salt the Water at the Right Time

Salt the water once it comes to a boil. (Add salt earlier, and it could end up pitting an aluminum pot.) The seasoning will give the pasta an essential flavor boost. For every pound of pasta, figure on two tablespoons of salt and six quarts of water.

Step 3: Stir the Pasta Occasionally

Stir the pasta right after you add it to the water and then occasionally throughout the cooking time to prevent clumping. If you don't stir, any strands of touching pasta will cook together and become stuck together. Stirring also ensures that the pasta is cooked evenly.

Step 4: Test for Doneness

Test for doneness about one minute before the time given on the package instructions. Dried pasta should be cooked through but still firm to the bite. (If it sticks to the wall, it's already overdone, so skip your sister's noodle-tossing method.) Fresh pasta will rise to the surface when it's ready. It should be chewy and have a uniform color throughout.

Top Pasta Mistakes to Avoid

Don't Break the Pasta

Don't break the pasta to fit it in the pot. Let the ends stick out until the submerged sections soften, about 1 minute. Then stir to bend the pasta and push it underwater. You don't want short strands. Pasta should be long enough to twirl around your fork.

Don't Add Oil to the Pot

Don't add oil to the pot in an attempt to keep the noodles from sticking together―stirring with a pasta fork is much more effective. Oil also prevents the sauce from coating the pasta, making cleanup a greasy proposition.

Don't Discard the Cooking Liquid

Don't discard all the pasta cooking liquid. Reserve a cup before draining to add to sauces for seasoning and body. The liquid also contains starch which helps ingredients to stick better to the pasta. This step is the key to producing smooth, restaurant-quality sauces in your own kitchen.

Don't Rinse Cooked Pasta

Don't rinse the cooked pasta when making a hot dish. It eliminates the flavorful starch that helps the sauce adhere; rinsing also cools the pasta. The only time you should ever rinse your pasta is if you are making a cold dish.

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