Everyone cooks pasta, but not everyone cooks pasta well. So, in honor of Pasta Week, today’s Bake It Better is actually “Make It Better”—better pasta, that is. Turning out perfectly cooked noodles takes some finesse, but it’s easy with these test kitchen-approved techniques.
And once you’re a pasta pro, try applying these simple steps to one of our favorite pasta recipes, BLT Pasta. If bacon makes everything better, just think of what its powers can do to a pot of pasta when combined with the superheroics of sweet tomatoes and peppery arugula—turn it into a colorful and quick six-ingredient weeknight meal, that’s what.
You’ll need 4 quarts of water to cook 1 pound of dried pasta. Pasta leaches starch as it cooks; without plenty of water to dilute it, the starch will coat the noodles and they will stick. Use a pot with at least a 6-quart capacity.
Adding oil to cooking water just creates a slick on the surface of the water, doing nothing for the pasta. And when you drain the pasta, the oil prevents the sauce from adhering. Adding salt to the water, however, is crucial, as it adds flavor. Add 1 tablespoon of salt per 4 quarts of water. (Think you might forget this step? Here a good tip to ensure your pasta water will always be salted.)
Stirring the pasta for a minute or two when you add it to the boiling water, and occasionally while it’s cooking, will prevent it from sticking together—and to the pot.
The timing instructions given on the box are almost always too long and will result in mushy, overcooked pasta. Tasting is the best way to check for doneness. We typically prefer pasta cooked al dente, when it still has a little bite left in the center.
Reserve about ½ cup cooking water before draining the pasta— the water is flavorful and can help loosen a thick sauce. (Here’s a handy way to always remember this step.) Drain the pasta in a colander, but don’t rinse the pasta or shake the colander vigorously, since some water helps the sauce coat the pasta.
Return the drained pasta to the empty pot and add your sauce (usually about 3 to 4 cups per pound of pasta, depending on the sauce). To coat the noodles, toss them with a pasta fork or tongs, adding pasta cooking water as needed to get your sauce to the right consistency.