Draining pasta can create waves—and not the good kind. The short walls of a shallow colander can cause the hot water to back up into the pasta before it has a chance to empty down the drain, which creates a risk of contamination if the sink isn’t perfectly clean. We steady the colander on an upside-down cake pan before draining. The pan elevates the colander—and, most important, the pasta—above the basin.
Even when drained well, the curved shape of macaroni and other similar-shaped pasta tends to hold in some cooking water. To thoroughly dry cooked macaroni and prevent the excess water from diluting your sauce or pasta salad dressing, we spread it in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels and allow it to dry for three minutes. Then we roll the pasta in the paper towels to blot any remaining moisture.
In that last flurry of activity before saucing pasta and getting dinner on the table, it’s easy to overlook small details—such as saving a bit of pasta cooking water when the recipe recommends it. To avoid this, set up the colander in the sink before cooking the pasta. Then place a measuring cup inside the colander. It’s sure to nudge your memory at the appropriate moment.
Some cooks don’t like to add salt to pasta water before it comes to a boil for fear of “pitting” (read: corroding) the pot. But if you don’t salt it at the beginning, you might forget and not salt it at all. To avoid unseasoned pasta, try this clever solution: Add the salt to the opened box of pasta (we recommend 1 tablespoon of table salt per pound of pasta), then simply dump the contents into the boiling water.