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The Secrets to Cooking Pasta

- Ian O'Leary/Getty Images
Ian O'Leary/Getty Images

Professional tips to perfect your pasta dishes.

Unless your grandmother carried an Italian passport, chances are you’ve been making your pasta the wrong way. Pasta is a beloved component of so many of our favorite dishes (mac and cheese, pasta salad, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.). Whether you’re boiling macaroni as a component for your mac and cheese or if you’re making a snack of bow tie pasta with butter, you must take good care of the noodles in your preparation.

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There are countless myths and legends surrounding the “right” technique for making pasta—throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks or putting oil in the boiling water to prevent the noodles from clumping together (yeah, that actually doesn’t do anything). However, the tips below have been gathered from some pasta experts in Italy and are standard rules of pasta preparation in professional kitchens around the world. With these easy insider tips, you’ll find that cooking the perfect pasta is much simpler than you thought (and that the myths couldn’t be any more needless).

How to Keep Noodles from Sticking Together

Oil and water separate—we all know that. However, if you’ve ever had the noodles clump together in your pot of water, you’ve probably wanted to believe that oil will help keep the noodles from sticking to each other. It doesn’t. The solution to this dilemma is not the addition of oil, but the addition of more water! As pasta cooks in boiling water, starches release from the noodles into the water, and if there isn’t enough water for the starch to disperse into, the noodles will cling to each other and form a gummy mass—so make sure you start with a big pot of water!

How to Enhance Pasta’s Flavor

Pasta, like all cooked food, requires seasoning. But you only have one chance to “season” your pasta—while it’s boiling. If you were to take a peek into the kitchen of your favorite Italian restaurant, you’d see a kitchen professional dumping an unbelievable amount of salt into their boiling pot of water before adding the pasta. Across the professional cooking world, the test for pasta water is the same: does it taste like the ocean? You might be thinking that’s excessive, but rest assured that the noodle will absorb the right amount of salt from water that tastes like the sea—so have plenty of kosher salt handy the next time you boil a pot of water.

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