cooking pasta

Cooking Pasta — Basic Cooking skills

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If I could eat pasta everyday, I SO would. I love it in all of its various shapes and sizes and coated in practically any sauce. Pasta serves as the foundation of endless amazing dishes and it’s essential that the pasta is cooked properly. Cooking pasta is a basic cooking skill that everyone needs to fine-tune in order to get the most out of their Italian dishes.

Let’s jump right in and get started on mastering our pasta-cooking skills!

This post is part of our Basic Cooking Skills series. Each week we will be doing a deep-dive into one basic cooking skill and a brand new recipe to accompany it to practice that newfound skill. Check back throughout the series for updates and new posts.

Please note this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using the links. Please see my disclosure for more details.

Pasta’s Many Shapes and Sizes

Penne, elbow, linguine. Just a few of the many different types of pasta that we all love and enjoy. (There are over 350 kinds!!)

Did you know that different types of pasta serve different purposes?? They not only make dinner more fun, but most often are specifically paired with a sauce.

Generally, thinner and longer pastas work better with lighter, oil-based sauces, whereas thicker pasta shapes match up well with heartier sauces. 

The “wrong” pasta certainly won’t ruin a meal but can make a big difference!

how to: Cook Pasta Perfectly

  1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
    • Patience is key here! Boiling water is essential for properly cooked noodles. If the water isn’t quite hot enough your pasta is more likely to turn soft and mushy.
  2. Generously salt the water.
    • Salt is key here! I always refer to Samin Nosrat’s guidance on proper salting. The water should taste as salty as the sea, she says! You don’t have to worry about the sodium content. The salt increases the noodle’s flavor but will be washed away when drained, pasta does not absorb the salt.
  3. Add the pasta and stir. Cook for around 8-10 minutes depending on the type of pasta and your preferred firmness.
    • For al dente, begin taste-testing the pasta a few minutes before done until the pasta is soft but still firm. Fresh pasta typically boils much faster so start checking it early!
  4. If needed, reserve some of the pasta water and drain the rest.
    • Some recipes call for using pasta water in the dish so make sure you check before draining it all!

Cooking Pasta Guide

Equipment Needed

Most Common Types of Pasta

  • Spaghetti – long and thin; used in light olive oil sauces or simple tomato sauces
  • Linguine – like spaghetti, but flat; used in light sauces
  • Fettuccine – flat and wider than linguine or spaghetti; used in thick cheesy sauces or meat sauces
  • Elbow – tight spirals; used in a variety of sauces, sauces stick to it easily
  • Farfalle – bowtie pasta; used in pasta salads, baked dishes, and creamy sauces
  • Penne – hollow tubes with angled ends, best with heavy sauces or baked dishes
  • Rigatoni – hollow tubes with straight ends, best in a heavy sauce or baked dish

Al Dente or Soft?

Preparing pasta “al dente” means cooking pasta slightly underdone, a few minutes less than the packaged directions.. The pasta is chewy and firm and holds up in any sauce. 

Cooking pasta al dente not only increases the taste, but allows the pasta to have a lower glycemic index than when it’s soft or mushy. Lower glycemic index = steady blood sugar levels and staying fuller longer.

Fully cooked pasta runs the risk of being soggy or turning to mush in a thick sauce. Overcooked pasta loses its nutritional value and can in fact do the opposite and become an energy drainer.

Pasta Water – What do we do with it?

Typically when draining boiling water it all goes right down the drain. But before dumping all of your pasta water down the drain, stop and check your recipe!

Most recipes involving a sauce call for using some of the precious water the pasta was cooked in. 

Remember, this water is heavily salted and now after cooking pasta it is filled with starch.

In short, it is FULL of flavor and helps the pasta and sauce stick together flawlessly.

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Implement your new skill

Don’t miss out on a delicious pasta recipe coming your way soon! If the Italian cravings hit in the meantime, checkout out Italian Sausage & Gnocchi or Sausage and Peppers for easy weeknight dinners!

What are some of your favorite pasta dishes to make at home? Or to eat in a restaurant? I love preparing gnocchi dishes at home and a classic chicken parmesan from Italian restaurants!

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52 thoughts on “Cooking Pasta — Basic Cooking skills”

  1. I cook a LOT of pasta. And I think I’ve got it down now. I used to leave it in for too long and it’d be so gross and soggy! Although I think I could probably do with using more salt 🙂 So thank you for that tip!

  2. I only recently found out that using pasta water was a thing (yes, I would just drain it and realise too late I should have saved some for the recipe —oops LOL).

    My favourite pasta to make at home is any creamy pasta. It’s so decadent though I don’t make it too often. Lasagne is also a firm favourite in my house! When going out nothing beats a good penne arrabiata- I make it at home regularly but it never tastes as good, not sure why! I think it’s the tomatoes I use.

    Thanks for the salt water tip! I’ve read that the water should be really salty for rice and pasta but I always hesitate because I worry about sodium. Good to know it doesn’t actually get absorbed like I thought it did!

    Another winner, Kalin! I love these basic tips – I wish they were around in such an easy to read and pretty blog 5 years ago haha!

  3. I love pasta and spaghetti is my fave food! I cook a lot of spaghetti before but now I just buy it haha Looking forward to another great recipe from you, Kalin xxx

  4. Oh I just adore pasta, all types of pasta! I just wish I could bring myself to measure it out, that is my only issue with cooking it. I make enough for the whole street.

    I definitely need to try el dente a bit more often x

  5. I love pasta! This is a great idea for a post- I make pasta all the time but these are some great tips for such a basic cooking skill 🙂 thanks for sharing x

  6. Wow, I always threw the water completely out. Funny how you mentioned salting the water while boiling. My mother taught me that but I always thought it was just an old wives tale, haha. I didnt realize how it really actually made a difference to the pasta. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is such great information. I had no idea that pasta didn’t retain the salt in the water, and I’ve always been afraid to “over-salt.” So good to know! It’ll definitely come in handy when I’m prepping pasta in the future.

  8. Good to know that pasta doesn’t absorb salt from the cooking water. I’ve neglected to add the salt thinking the opposite was true. I see more flavorful pasta coming my way!

  9. Pingback: Classic Chicken Parmesan - Abundance of Flavor

  10. I absolutely love pasta! It is one of my favourite things to eat! There are just so many options for meals you can have that are pasta-based!

  11. Cooking pasta is definitely an art, which I’m still trying to master. Thankfully I eat A LOT of pasta so I’m starting to get the hang of it 😉 I thought pasta was one of those things that you can’t mess up too badly, but oh no! My best friend managed to burn her pasta, which I think is a grand achievement 😀

    Teresa Maria | Outlandish Blog

  12. We eat pasta quite often in our house, so I think I’ve got it down pretty good how to make, but this is such a great post for those just starting out. I wish I would have had an in-depth post like this when I went away for college!

  13. I am completely the same as you, I totally love pasta myself, I can’t tell though what my favourite pasta is as there is so many 😂 If I was using pasta then a traditional carbonara is ideal for me 😁

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