10 tips for cooking pasta that every home cook should know

Murphy ScottFebruary 20, 2023
Photo by RODNAE ProductionsPhoto by RODNAE Productions

One of the biggest mistakes home cooks make when cooking pasta is not using enough water. Pasta needs plenty of space to move around in the pot as it cooks, and using too small of a pot can result in clumpy, gummy pasta. To avoid this, always start with a large pot of boiling water. The general rule of thumb is to use at least 4 quarts of water per pound of pasta.

Photo by Anna ShvetsPhoto by Anna Shvets

Another mistake many home cooks make is not salting the water enough. Pasta needs salt to bring out its flavor, and without it, the pasta will taste bland. A good rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon of salt for every 4 quarts of water. Don't worry about the pasta absorbing all the salt - most of it will be left behind in the water.

Some home cooks add oil to the water when cooking pasta, thinking it will prevent the pasta from sticking together. However, this is a myth - oil actually makes the pasta more slippery and can prevent sauce from adhering to it properly. To prevent sticking, simply make sure you're using enough water and give the pasta a stir every few minutes as it cooks.

Photo by Bozhin Karaivanov on UnsplashPhoto by Bozhin Karaivanov on Unsplash

Al dente means "to the tooth" in Italian, and it refers to pasta that is cooked until it is tender but still has a slight firmness to it. Al dente pasta has a pleasant texture and is ideal for pairing with a variety of sauces. To achieve this texture, start testing your pasta a few minutes before the recommended cooking time on the package. Keep in mind that different shapes and sizes of pasta may require different cooking times.

When you're draining your pasta, don't pour all the water down the drain. Instead, scoop out a cup or so of the pasta water and reserve it. This starchy water can be used to thin out sauces, help them cling to the pasta, and add extra flavor to your dishes.

Some home cooks rinse their pasta after cooking it to remove any excess starch or to cool it down quickly. However, this can actually be detrimental to the texture of the pasta. Rinsing pasta can wash away some of the starch that helps sauces adhere to it, and it can also make the pasta too cool to serve hot. Instead, simply drain the pasta and add it directly to your sauce.


Not all pasta shapes are created equal when it comes to pairing them with sauces. For example, long, thin pasta like spaghetti or linguine is best paired with light sauces like tomato or oil-based sauces. Thicker pasta shapes like fettuccine or pappardelle are better for heavier, creamier sauces. And smaller pasta shapes like penne or farfalle are perfect for chunky sauces with vegetables or meat.

Photo by Klaus NielsenPhoto by Klaus Nielsen

Don't neglect to season your pasta sauce. Even if you're using a store-bought sauce, it can benefit from a few extra herbs or spices. Taste your sauce as it cooks and adjust the seasoning as needed. And don't forget to add a generous sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese before serving!

Serve the pasta immediately

Photo by Klaus NielsenPhoto by Klaus Nielsen

Pasta is best served hot and fresh, so try to time your pasta cooking so that it's ready to serve as soon as it's cooked. If you need to keep the pasta warm for a few minutes before serving, toss it with a bit of butter or oil to prevent it from sticking together.

Photo by Klaus NielsenPhoto by Klaus Nielsen

While spaghetti and penne are popular pasta shapes, there are many other types of pasta out there that are worth trying. From fun shapes like fusilli and rotini to specialty types like gnocchi and ravioli, experimenting with different pasta shapes can add variety and excitement to your meals.

And now, it's time to enjoy your delicious pasta creation! Whether you're serving up a classic spaghetti with meatballs or a fancy seafood linguine, following these tips will help you achieve perfect pasta every time. So don't be afraid to get creative in the kitchen and try new pasta dishes - after all, pasta is a delicious and versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed in so many different ways. Buon appetito!