How To Cook Pasta Like An Italian

Learn how to cook pasta perfectly al dente, as the Italian tradition wants. Follow this easy step-by-step guide and all the best tips to start making pasta like a pro!

Pasta is a staple of Italian cuisine, and for all the good reasons. It’s inexpensive, quick to prepare, and easy to customize.

Cooking pasta is fairly easy, but how to cook it at the right point and make it have the right consistency?

Follow my best tricks and tips to make the pasta al dente every single time, as the Italian tradition wants.

This easy step-by-step guide will show you how to properly cook pasta without making mistakes, and to enhance its texture, taste, and flavor.

HOW TO MAKE AL DENTE PASTA

Taste, taste, taste. The common rule to achieve perfectly al dente pasta is to drain the pasta 2-3 minutes before the suggested cooking time on the packaging.

However, different quality of pasta gives different results, even after following this rule.

Most commercial pasta gets chewier easily, high-quality bronze-cut pasta (such as pasta from Gragnano) holds the cooking time better and will give you a better chance to achieve al dente pasta even if the pasta cooks a little longer than necessary.

My best tip is to avoid following the cooking time too religiously.

Taste the pasta every 2-3 minutes, when it’s almost ready, you will be able to see a little white dot at the center of the spaghetti or a white ring if you are cooking a tube-shaped pasta.

At this point, let the pasta cook for another minute, then drain.

Don’t forget that pasta will continue to cook after you drain it and return it to the pot.

HOW TO COOK PASTA STEP-BY-STEP

For 4 people you need about 300 g of pasta (75 g per person), 3 liters of water, and a generous tablespoon of sea salt.

how to cook pasta step 1, large pot with boiling water.

Step 1. Fill ⅔ of a large saucepan with water, put the lid on, and bring to a boil over high heat.

how to cook pasta step 2, add salt into the pot.

Step 2. Remove the lid and add the sea salt.

how to cook pasta step 3, add pasta into the pot.

Step 3. Stir in the pasta, then reduce the heat to medium heat.

how to cook pasta step 4, stir the pasta with a wooden spoon whilst it cooks.

Step 4. Stir the pasta with a wooden spoon every 3 minutes.

how to cook pasta step 5, remove 1 cup of pasta water from the pot.

Step 5. Remove about 1 cup of pasta cooking water to emulsify the pasta sauce later.

how to cook pasta step 6, drain the pasta with a colander or strainer.

Step 6. When the pasta is tender but still has a bite, drain the pasta in a colander over the sink or use a strainer to scoop the pasta from the water.

Return the pasta into the pot or transfer it into the pan with your favorite sauce, and mix by adding a little of the reserved pasta water until you reach the desired consistency.

BEST COOKING TIPS

  • After you drain the pasta don’t “wash” it under cool running water, this will only make it sticky and chewy.
  • Choose the right pan. A large pot is best for short pasta (penne, rigatoni, ditali, fusilli, bows, etc.). A tall pot is best for spaghetti and bucatini.
  • Don’t overfill the pot with water, fill just ⅔ of the pot with water, so that there’s enough room for the pasta.
  • Add all the pasta in one go, so that it will cook evenly.
  • Stir the pasta every 2-3 minutes to avoid that it sticks together, this is particularly important for long pasta such as spaghetti.
  • Follow the cooking time suggested on the pasta packaging, but not religiously. For al dente pasta you’ll need to drain it about 2-3 min before the time suggested on the packaging.
  • Always reserve ¼ cup of pasta water before you drain it. You should never drain all the pasta water, this starchy liquid will make silky, smooth, and delicious pasta sauces.

COMMON QUESTIONS

Do you add oil to the pasta water?

Some people suggest adding olive oil to the pasta water, as it prevents the pasta from sticking together. However, you don’t need to add oil to the pasta water, simply mix the pasta every 2-3 minutes and it won’t stick.

Should you cook the pasta with the lid on or off?

Put a lid on the pot while you are waiting for the water to boil. However, when you add the pasta, you should take the lid off to prevent the water from bubbling over.

Do I keep the water boiling when cooking pasta?

Absolutely not. The water should be bubbling vigorously when the pasta is added, keep the heat high to return to full boil as rapidly as possible, then adjust the heat as necessary to prevent a boil-over.

Do you cook the pasta on high heat?

No, you shouldn’t cook it over high heat. Cook the pasta over medium heat to avoid the water from bubbling over.

Can you cook the pasta in the sauce?

Technically yes, but it depends. I like to cook the pasta in soup-kind of sauces such as pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas), where there’s plenty of liquid for the pasta to absorb.

To cook the pasta in tomato sauce, you need to thin the sauce with plenty of water, and the sauce will probably lose a lot of its flavour.

So I don’t typically recommend it, but if you do, try to swap water with veggie or chicken broth for extra flavour (some Italian chefs use this technique to make pasta risottata)

FAVOURITE PASTA SAUCE RECIPES:

Once your pasta is perfectly cooked, try one of these delicious sauces:

Or check out these delicious pasta recipes:

Cheesy and Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake

tuna pasta bake topped with chopped parsley.

Pasta with Sweet Potato and Prosciutto

pasta with sweet potato, spinach and crispy prosciutto.

Sicilian Pasta alla Norma

cook holding a fork with pasta over a bowl of pasta alla norma topped with basil leaves

Italian Calamarata Pasta

calamarata pasta with squid, tomato and chopped parsley.

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

Please let me know how you liked it! Leave a comment below and share a picture on Instagram tag @thepetitecook!

Looking at your pictures always makes me smile *and super hungry*!

penne pasta cooked al dente in a colander over a pot with pasta.

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Learn how to cook pasta perfectly al dente, as the Italian tradition wants. Follow this step-by-step guide and tips to make pasta like a pro!

Cook Time10 mins

Course: Mains

Cuisine: Italian

Serving: 4

Calories: 278kcal

Ingredients

  • 300 g pasta

Instructions

  • Fill ⅔ of a large saucepan with water, put the lid on, and bring to a boil over high heat.

  • Remove the lid and add the sea salt.

  • Stir in the pasta, then reduce the heat to medium heat.

  • Stir the pasta with a wooden spoon every 3 minutes.

  • Remove about 1 cup of pasta cooking water to emulsify the pasta sauce later.

  • Start testing the pasta about 4 minutes before the cooking time suggested on the package instructions. When it’s tender but still has a bite, drain the pasta in a colander over the sink or use a hand colander to scoop the pasta from the water.

  • Return the pasta into the pot or transfer it into the pan with your favorite sauce, and mix by adding a little of the reserved pasta water until you reach the desired consistency.

Notes

  • After you drain the pasta don’t “wash” it under cool running water, this will only make it sticky and chewy.
  • Choose the right pan. A large pot is best for short pasta, a tall pot is best for spaghetti and bucatini.
  • Don’t overfill the pot with water, fill just ⅔ of the pot with water.
  • Add all the pasta in one go, so that it will cook evenly.
  • Stir the pasta every 2-3 minutes to avoid that it sticks together, this is particularly important for long pasta such as spaghetti.
  • Follow the cooking time suggested on the pasta packaging, but not religiously.
  • For al dente pasta you’ll need to drain it about 2-3 min before the time suggested on the packaging.
  • Always reserve ¼ cup of pasta water before you drain it. You should never drain all the pasta water, this starchy liquid will make silky, smooth and delicious pasta sauces.

Nutrition

Calories: 278kcal | Carbohydrates: 56g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 5mg | Potassium: 167mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Calcium: 16mg | Iron: 1mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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