How to Cook Perfect Pasta

Want to know how to cook perfect pasta? Cookbook author Sheela Prakash offers three simple tips that can transform your pasta into greatness.

A pink bowl of short pasta with mushrooms, prosciutto, and Parmesan cheese on a placemat with a fork.
: Kristin Teig

You probably already know that you should cook pasta in ample water. And you also know how to cook pasta in water that’s so heavily salted it could be a roiling, boiling pot of seawater, yes? Excellent.

Mediterranean Every Day Cookbook.
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Yet there are a few other less commonly known tricks that can have a massive impact on everyday boxed pasta. The below steps, excerpted from Mediterranean Every Day, show you how to set yourself up for some serious pasta satisfaction (read: happy carb overload). Keto be damned!—David Leite

How to Cook Perfect Pasta

Maybe you’ve wondered why pasta dishes you order at good Italian restaurants are just a little bit better than the ones you cook at home. How is it that the pasta is both perfectly cooked and married to the sauce?

This is because they lean on a simple three-step trick. I use it in almost all my pasta recipes, aside from those where the sauce isn’t cooked. Once you learn the trick, you can adapt almost every pasta recipe you cook to ensure it’s as perfect as eating out.

1. Undercook the pasta

A pot of bowtie pasta that is still undercooked on the stove
: Beatrice Prève

Subtract one minute from however long the box says to cook the pasta to al dente and set your timer to that number. So for example, if your box of gemelli instructs you to cook it ten minutes, go for nine–max.

2. Save some pasta water

Before draining the undercooked pasta, carefully scoop a large measuring cup into the boiling water and reserve some of the cooking water. This water is filled with starch from cooking the pasta and will help tie everything together.

3. Finish the pasta in the sauce

To cook perfect pasta, a colander of pasta being poured into a skillet of red sauce
: Danie Nel

Add both the undercooked pasta and some starchy pasta water to the skillet of sauce you’ve prepared. Bring everything to a simmer and toss constantly for a minute or two (add another splash or two of pasta water, as needed, if things start to dry out too quickly). The starchy water will mix with the sauce to help thicken it and coat the pasta, and the pasta will finish cooking during this process.

Originally published January 16, 2022


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