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The Dos and Don’ts of Cooking Pasta

13 June 2024
by Giadzy
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Giada helps us debunk some of the most common myths about the best way to cook pasta. 

There are countless kitchen myths out there, passed down from wannabe science buffs and superstitious home cooks. The problem is, many of them don’t actually work the way we think they should! This is especially true when it comes to cooking pasta, which was a relatively new addition to many American home cooks’ repertoires just a few decades ago. 

Luckily, we have a resident pasta expert on hand: Giada! We asked her to weigh in on some of the most common pasta cooking myths and let us know which should be forgotten once and for all. Read on for Giada’s best tips on exactly what not to do—and what to do instead—to cook the best pasta of your life.  


DON’T: Break up your pasta before adding it to the pot 

Don’t panic if your spaghetti sticks out of the top of the pot when you first drop it in the boiling water. It only takes a minute for pasta to soften enough to sink below the water’s surface. That said, if you’re cooking with one of our extra-long Giadzy Pastas like our bucatini lunghi, break away! It harks back to the old days when small pastificios sold pasta just as it hung to dry, leaving it to their customers to break it into the right shape. 


Giada cooking pasta


DO: Use a tall pot when cooking tall pasta 

Long pastas like fettuccine or pappardelle need lots of room to swim, says Giada! Crowding those strands into a shorter pot is the surest way to get them to stick together and cook unevenly. Use your tallest pot and plenty of water, and bring it to a rolling boil to keep the pasta moving as it cooks. Save your shorter pots for short pasta shapes like fusilli or orecchiette. 


DON’T: Add oil to the cooking water 

Concerned about pasta sticking together, some well-meaning cooks suggest adding a small amount of olive oil to the boiling water to coat the pasta like a layer of Teflon. Problem is, that’s exactly what you don’t want! The natural layer of starch that forms on your pasta’s exterior as it cooks will bring your dish together at the end, attracting your sauce and encouraging it to cling to the pasta. Slippery pasta won’t hold onto its sauce and will taste bland. 


DO: Add salt to the cooking water 

You’ve probably heard different stories about salting your pasta water—that it will speed up the boiling process, or maybe that it shouldn’t go into cold water. The good news is that it’s not that complicated. You can add salt before or after the water boils, just as long as you do it before the pasta goes in! Use more salt than you might think—around 1 tablespoon for every 3 quarts of water. For a large, 12-quart pot, that's 1/4 cup! As the dry pasta rehydrates with that salted water, you’re seasoning it from the inside out, enhancing its natural flavor.  


DON’T: Rinse your cooked pasta 

We’re sensing a theme here! Some cooks rinse their pasta after draining it to wash away that layer of starch in the hopes of avoiding the dreaded clump. Instead, freshly cooked pasta should be tossed with sauce immediately—plain pasta that sits for too long absolutely will stick together. Even if you’re making a pasta salad, toss your pasta with some of the dressing ASAP before adding your other ingredients to make sure it’s absorbed evenly. 


Giada draining pasta


DO: Save some pasta water when you drain it 

Not only should you not wash away that residual starch, you shouldn’t let it all go down the drain, either! If you’ve ever wondered how restaurant chefs get their pasta sauce so thick and glossy, the secret is pasta water. Save about a cup of the pasta cooking water and add it little by little to the pan where you’re tossing your pasta and sauce together. It’ll thicken over the heat, and help the sauce absorb into the pasta for a more harmonious finished product. 


DON’T: Throw it at a wall 

This old trick for testing whether pasta is cooked simply doesn’t work, plus it makes a mess (and wastes pasta!). It probably arose from home chefs noticing that cooked pasta has a sticky, starchy layer on its surface, while pasta that hasn’t had enough time to cook won’t have released as much starch. There are much better ways to check your pasta’s doneness. 


DO: Taste it often as it cooks  

Every stove is different, and everything from your altitude to the size and shape of your pot can affect how long it takes pasta to cook. The only way to be sure it’s done to your preferred al dente texture is to taste it! If your pasta package includes a cooking time, start checking a minute before the range begins, and taste often from there, biting or cutting a piece of pasta through the center to check it properly. Remember that pasta will continue cooking as you toss it with sauce, so drain it right before it’s where you want it to end up.  


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