There’s nothing better than pasta night for a stress-free dinner that everyone loves, except maybe a pasta lunch. Or even a leftovers-for-breakfast pasta morning. (Lasagna is totally a breakfast food now, and you can’t convince us otherwise.)
But mastering the perfect pasta can be a little tricky—which means sometimes our favorite meal turns into soggy noodles or clumps of starch. Fortunately, we’ve collected all the best tips and tricks for making the perfect noodle, every time. Whether you’re boiling, baking, or whipping up a one-pot wonder, here’s how to make pasta like a pro!
This is the most common method for cooking pasta, and while it’s relatively simple, a little preparation and attention can take your noodles from good to great. Here’s how to get the perfect bowl of carb-filled deliciousness.
First, remember that cooking your pasta should be the last step in preparing your meal. Cooking pasta first and letting it sit as you make a sauce or side dishes allows the noodles to cool and transform into a sticky mass that can’t be undone, so make sure everything else is ready before you start your pasta preparations.
Ready to start? Follow these steps.
1. Use a large pot. Pasta needs room to move while boiling, and a crowded pot prevents noodles from cooking evenly.
2. Use plenty of water, at least 6-8 cups for every 16-oz. package of pasta.
3. Use lots of salt. Now add more salt. At least a tablespoon, and maybe more if you’re cooking a large amount. Salted water adds flavor to your pasta, and later the excess water will be used to help your finished pasta “stick” to the sauce.
4. Wait for water to reach a rapid boil before adding the pasta. If you’re in a hurry, partially cover your pot to help the water boil faster.
5. Stir your pasta immediately after you add it to the water, and continue to stir occasionally until the pasta is cooked through.
6. Long thin noodles cook quickly, while small dense pastas take longer. Check the directions on the package, and test noodles at the lower end of the time frame provided, or two minutes before the package recommends. Pasta should be chewy, not crunchy or soft.
7. As you drain the water, set aside a cup of the extra pasta water. You’ll use this to help combine the noodles and the sauce since the salted water will help coat noodles evenly.
Lastly, remember to add your finished noodles to the sauce instead of returning them to the pot and pouring sauce over the pasta. It might feel counterintuitive, but adding freshly cooked pasta to a pan of warm sauce helps mix everything together and prevents the dreaded clump of carbohydrates from forming at the bottom of the pot. Serve pasta while hot, and enjoy!
- Don’t rinse your pasta in cold water while draining out the excess cooking water. Pasta cooked al dente needs to continue to cook for a few more seconds after being removed from heat.
- Avoid the old tip of adding oil to your noodles as they cook, it makes them greasy and prevents the sauce from adhering to the pasta later. As long as occasionally stir the noodles, they shouldn’t stick together.
- More is more! For perfectly cooked pasta, remember to use a larger pot, more water, and more salt than you might think is necessary. Time to make friends with your stockpot!
How to Bake Pasta
We love a good baked pasta. From lasagna to homemade macaroni and cheese to baked ziti, you can’t beat a noodle casserole when the occasion calls for some serious comfort food. Make sure your favorite noodle dish turns out perfectly with our best tips for baked pasta. Here’s our steps for getting started:
1. Remember to reduce the initial cook time. Boil pasta for only 5-6 minutes, or just before they’re cooked al dente. The noodles should still be just a tiny bit raw—not crunchy, just firm and slightly chewy. They’ll finish cooking as you bake them, so shortening your boiling time is key to preventing overcooked noodles.
2. The right ingredients are crucial. Prevent a dry casserole by using a fatty meat like chicken thighs, ground beef, or pork. Use noodles with curves and ridges that can trap sauce, and avoid long thin noodles that are easily overbaked and difficult to evenly coat.
3. Before you bake, make sure there’s enough liquid to finish cooking your pasta without drying out the rest of the ingredients. Before putting anything in the oven, push everything in the pan aside and check the bottom. If liquid begins to pool, there’s enough moisture for cooking. If not, make sure to add more sauce.
4. Here’s the most important rule for baked pasta: Keep hot with hot and cold with cold. If you’re baking your pasta dish immediately, you can combine hot noodles with other hot ingredients and bake everything together. If you’re not planning on baking your casserole right away, let the noodles and other ingredients cool separately before combining. This prevents your pasta from becoming too starchy and sticky.
5. Ready to bake? Cook covered without any cheese topping for 20 minutes to guarantee the pasta finishes cooking. Then remove the cover, add cheese, and finish baking. For a golden-brown topping with just a little crunch, broil your casserole for 2-3 minutes before taking it out of the oven.
We typically don’t recommend cold rinsing pasta after boiling. It stops the cooking time too quickly, and your noodles end up rubbery. However, if you’re wanting to combine the noodles with the other ingredients, it’s important to stop the cooking process right away, so go ahead and give your pasta a cold rinse and a stir before storing.
One-pot pasta recipes have become increasingly popular over the past few years and for good reason. These recipes don’t just make dinner prep quick, but also make post-dinner cleanup a cinch. The other reason we love them is that they are incredibly versatile and inspire us to get creative with what we have on hand.
We’ve developed a one-pot formula so you can easily make a variety of different dinners using ingredients you already have on hand. It’s a simple formula that calls for:
- 1 cup of cooked protein
- 2 cups of veggies
- 1 cup cheese
- 8 ounces of pasta
- 3 cups of liquid
Combine all of the ingredients in one pot, cook until pasta is al dente, and dinner is done. There’s no guesswork, ingredients are easy to substitute, and your whole family will love these flavorful and satisfying meals.
Here are a few of our favorite recipes that we’ve created with this One-Pot Formula:
- One-Pot Chicken Bacon Alfredo Pasta
- One-Pot Meatball Stroganoff
- One-Pot Spring Parmesan Pasta
- One-Pot Lasagna
- One-Pot Creamy Tuscan Pasta
- Choose a pot that is large enough to hold all the ingredients. A pot that is too small can make stirring challenging and messing. Our favorite is the GoodCook Deep Saute Pan with Lid.
- Stir, stir, stir. Be sure to stir the pasta every 2-3 mins as it cooks. This will make sure everything combines well and will keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- These quick dinners are, well quick, so it’s best to stay close-by as it boils to avoid it from overcooking or having the pasta dry out.