How To Cook Pasta: 10 Tips And Tricks

Perfect, al dente pasta every time — plus, the one thing you should never do.
How To Cook Pasta: 10 Tips And Tricks

Perfectly cooked fresh Sicilian pasta. Photo, Sian Richards.

Fresh or dried, pasta is a go-to weeknight dinner because it's so simple and it's a true crowd-pleaser (who doesn't love a heaping plate of noodles?). Best of, cooking perfect pasta is easy — here are 10 easy tips to get you there!

Tuscan white bean and tomato pasta recipePhoto, Erik Putz.

1. DON'T put oil in your water or on your pasta.

Adding oil to the water, or to cooked pasta to keep it from sticking will cause your sauce to slip off the noodles. You'll also end up with greasy pasta, yuck. So, now that the don't is out of the way, here are all the dos!

2. Fill your pot properly.


Use enough cold, fresh water in a large pot that once the pasta begins to cook and expand, there will still be plenty of room for the noodles to move freely. You also want enough water to balance the heat once the pasta is added, allowing it to come back to a boil quickly. The rule of thumb is at least three litres of water to every 250g of pasta.

3. Salt your water like the sea.

Salting the water is your only opportunity to season the pasta itself. The water needs to "taste like the sea," in order to flavour the pasta. Three litres of water requires a minimum of 1 tbsp salt.

4. Bring water to a rapid boil before adding the pasta.


Starches absorb water instantly and you want the water temperature to be extremely hot to begin cooking the noodles properly. Noodles that are added too soon will be soggy and improperly cooked.

5. Drop and stir.

As soon as you drop your pasta in the water, stir it. This prevents the pasta from sticking together, or to the bottom or sides of the pot. Stir occasionally during the cooking process.

Overhead shot of spinach asparagus pesto pasta with shrimp in a bowl

6. Check the package for timing.

There are lots of methods for testing if pasta is properly cooked, but your best starting point is to read the package. Every variety and brand of pasta designates a proper cooking time and it's indicated on the package. Long thin noodles tend to be very fast cooking while small denser pasta tend to take much longer. Start testing your pasta about two minutes before the indicated time, just to be safe. You're looking for 'al dente' which means tender but firm to the tooth. If your pasta will be cooking further in the a saucepan with sauce, you can remove it from the water slightly before the al dente stage.

7. Always save some cooking water.


Before you drain your pasta ladle a cup of cooking water into a bowl or measuring cup and reserve for your sauce. (We'll come back to this.)

8. Drain don't dry.

Drain your pasta enough to remove most of the water, but don't let drained pasta sit and "dry off". As it cools, the starches will firm up and the pasta will stick together.


9. Add pasta to sauce — not the other way around.

It's important to have your sauce ready before you start cooking your noodles. Cooking the pasta should be the final stage in preparing your meal. Keep your sauce heated in a spacious saucepan, large enough to accommodate the noodles. Add it right after you have drained the pasta.

10. Add some pasta water.


Including a small amount of the water used to cook the noodles in your sauce can enhance its ability to stick to the noodles. This water contributes richness and flavor, and the starch in it can help fix a sauce that has separated.

The best piece of pasta-related advice I can give is this:

Keep in mind that the final stage of your meal preparation should be the actual cooking of the noodles. Ensure that the sauce is prepared, the salad is laid out on the table, and everything is ready before you start cooking the noodles. It is important to add the cooked pasta to the sauce quicky, as any delay may cause it to stick together and become sticky. Unfortunately, once it becomes gluey, there is no way to fix it.

Here's some of our favourite kitchen picks for cooking a perfect pot of pasta.


Cuisinart Stainless Steel Pasta Pot with Draining Cover, $58

a 6 quart pasta pot with a lid that has holes for straining


Lagostina 3-piece Set Pasta Cooker, $120


a stainless steel, 3-piece pasta pot set


Hiramwire Stainless Steel Colander, $17

a stainless steel colander with a plastic rim and side handles


OXO Nylon Pasta Server, $12

a long, black spaghetti fork with ridges

How to make fresh Sicilian pasta sauce

Originally published August 21st, 2014. 


While the products in this piece have been independently chosen, this article contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.


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