12 Mistakes You’re Making When Cooking Pasta
These expert tips will not only help you turn out perfect pasta dishes every time, but they’ll also answer that age-old question: Should you throw a strand of pasta up against the wall to see if it’s done?
Pasta may just be the ultimate comfort food, except when it comes time to prepare it. Salt the water? Rinse the cooked noodles? The controversy abounds, so we’ve turned to Taste of Home and two major names in the world of pasta: Chef Carmine Di Giovanni of New York’s Aunt Jake’s, and Glenn Rolnick, executive chef at Carmine’s. Their pasta palaces dot the culinary landscape from New York to Las Vegas, and they reveal, once and for all, the right way to prepare your noodles.
You don’t salt the water
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: Absolutely yes, you should salt the water.
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: Yes, salt it—about one tablespoon of salt per gallon of water.
Salt is added to the water to improve the taste of the pasta, but if someone at the table is on a low-sodium diet, you can leave it out and let each person salt their own serving. Learn how to avoid the top mistake home chefs make when cooking pasta.
You add a splash of olive oil to the water
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: Oil is not necessary.
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: No oil—it will make the pasta gummy.
Despite what almost everyone thinks, this is a major no-no, and nearly all famous pasta chefs agree.
You completely drain the cooked pasta
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: No, the pasta water will add a silky texture to your sauce.
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: Just drain through a colander.
And check out this hack for easier noodle straining.
You rinse the cooked pasta
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: That’s a definite NO. I get this question all the time. It’s a huge mistake to rinse it. The starch adds a smooth velvet-like richness to your sauce.
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: No
The issue is that by rinsing pasta, you remove starch that helps sauces cling to the cooked pasta.
You set aside some pasta water for the sauce
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: If your sauce is too thick then, yes. Otherwise, the strained pasta will retain some water on it, which should be enough for the sauce.
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: No. Sauce should be flavorful without needing to dilute.
Some chefs feel that adding some of the drained off water to a sauce will help it to bond with pasta—try it both ways and make your own call. Check out these other 10 cooking tricks that are only taught in culinary schools.
You only use dried pasta
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: Boxed pasta (dry) works well for pasta salads, otherwise always try to use fresh. It’s a night and day difference.
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: You can use fresh when it’s available, but serve immediately after draining. Dried pastas will sit a little better.
For something different, try these healthy pasta alternatives that won’t make you miss the carbs.
You freeze your leftovers
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: Fresh pasta freezes very well, but never defrost it to cook it. If cooked directly from frozen into hot water, you would never know the difference. But once defrosted after being frozen, just throw it away. The water crystals in the dough cause it to get soggy, or as Aunt Jake would say, “mooshsda.”
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: As for freezing a finished dish: Don’t do that!
You throw a strand of cooked pasta against a wall to see if it’s done
Chef Di Giovanni, Aunt Jake’s: Not unless you like cleaning it up afterward.
Chef Rolnick, Carmine’s: No. Better to taste and look for a little bite or texture.
Never make these 11 cooking mistakes that could make your food toxic.
You make too much (or not enough)
Pasta expands when it’s cooking, so it can be hard to gauge how much you’re actually making. Try these hacks from Taste of Home: Tightly pack long noodles (think spaghetti and angel hair) in the opening of an empty, clean soda bottle to measure one portion. For smaller pastas like macaroni, filling a closed fist with dry noodles will give you about one cup cooked. Use these other 25 brilliant cooking shortcuts you’ll wish you knew sooner.