Ah, pasta — always an easy and super-satisfying meal, especially on weeknights when there's limited time for cooking. If you're anything like me, you've been cooking it for years, and by now you could probably make it with your eyes closed.
But as simple as it is to cook pasta, you might be making common mistakes without even knowing it. Here are the five most common mistakes that are made when cooking pasta, plus our best tips on how to avoid them!
1. Using a pot that's too small.
Ever tried squeezing too-tall spaghetti into a tiny pot? Perhaps you broke the spaghetti in half to make it fit?
By using a pot that's not large enough, the water temperature drops significantly when the pasta is added. More so than if you were using a larger pot. While the water returns to a boil (which can take a while), the pasta gets clumpy and mushy sitting in the pot. This also creates a higher starch-to-water ratio, which makes for sticky pasta.
→ Follow this tip: Use a large pot filled with five to six quarts of water.
2. Not salting the water.
In our quest to limit the amount of sodium in our diet, this step is all too often skipped. When I was in culinary school, our chef's rule of thumb was that the water should be as salty as the sea. That may be a little on the extreme side, but pasta water certainly needs more than just a pinch of salt.
Pasta doesn't actually absorb all the salt that goes in the water; the purpose of the salt is to "rough up" the surface of the pasta to keep it from getting slimy. Salt also helps to season the noodles, which is especially important when cooking dried pasta.
→ Follow this tip: Bring five to six quarts of water to a rapid boil, then add one to two tablespoons of salt to the water.
3. Adding pasta to the water too soon.
I'll admit, I've made this mistake more than once. When you're hungry, it seems like the water takes forever to boil. But don't use that an excuse to jump the gun on adding pasta to the water too soon. When pasta sits in water that's not hot enough, it gets gummy and sticky.
→ Follow this tip: Wait for the water to come to a rapid, extravagant boil, then add the pasta.
4. Not stirring the pasta.
Stirring pasta during cooking is crucial! Skip this step and you're left with a giant clump of noodles that are stuck together.
→ Follow this tip: Stir the pasta immediately after adding it to the water, and occasionally during cooking. This will prevent it from sticking together.
5. Rinsing the pasta after cooking.
Please, do not rinse your pasta. Not only is it totally unnecessary, but by doing this, you're washing away the starch that helps the sauce cling to the pasta. It also washes away some of the pasta's wonderful flavor.
→ Follow this tip: Drain the pasta in a colander, and gently shake to remove any excess water.
What are your best tips for cooking pasta?
(Image credits: Nealey Dozier; Leela Cyd)