Ten Rules for Cooking the Perfect Pasta Al Dente!


Bucatini all_Amatriciana Photo by Chowhound
Bucatini all’Amatriciana / Photo by Chowhound

1.    Never add oil to pasta water.

As the old expression goes, “Oil and water never mix.” Oil is less dense than water and that’s why it will always float on top.  Adding oil to the water will not keep your pasta from sticking together and when you drain the pasta, the oil will cling to it preventing the sauce from sticking.  To avoid having blobs of pasta from sticking together, use a lot of water. This will allow the starches to disperse in the water and prohibit it from acting like glue. Use one liter of water for every 100 grams of dry pasta.

Chris Cole Photodisc Getty Images.jpg
Photo by Chris Cole, Getty Images

2.  Make sure you bring the water to a boil.

Pasta al dente requires boiling water. The reason why we wait for the water to boil before adding the pasta is because we want the pasta to be in contact with the water for only as little time as possible. Boiling water also helps gelatinize the starches in the pasta making it digestible and al dente.

Photo by Comfy Cuisine
Photo by Comfy Cuisine

3.  Add salt only when the water starts to boil.

Adding salt to cold water will delay the time for it to reach boiling point. However, adding salt to boiling water raises its temperature, thus making it very hot and temperature-perfect for the pasta to be cooked.

Adding Salt to Boiling-Water/Photo by Meredith1

4.   Simmer Not.

Keep the water boiling and don’t simmer. Letting the pasta cook in boiling water is the only way to make it al dente. Lowering the heat to simmer will result in mushy pasta. Now, who wants that?

Simmering Pasta Photo by the Food Lab
Simmering Pasta / Photo by The Food Lab

5. Don’t break spaghetti or other long pasta.

If you prefer to eat spaghetti or other long pasta by winding it around your fork, then don’t break it while cooking. Broken pasta prevents you from catching a good amount of sauce on it.  When cooking long pastas especially spaghetti, place them in the pot with boiling water then carefully push them down until they bend and soften. Never, ever break them!

Photo by The View from my Italian Kitchen
Don’t break the pasta! / Photo by The View from my Italian Kitchen


Pasta on a Fork Photo by Nicole Young
Pasta on a Fork / Photo by Nicole Young

6.  Bite it!

Throwing pasta at a wall and waiting to see if it sticks to find out if it is already cooked is senseless. This will only result in a messy, sticky wall. It is also pointless to break the pasta to see if the color inside the pasta is even to determine if it is ready or not.  The only way to find out is to BITE it. The pasta should be a bit hard but still soft enough to bite without giving you a crunchy sound.  For al dente pasta, there should be a thin segment in the middle of the pasta that has a paler color than the rest. In Italian, this is what they call the Punto Verde (green point) which is an indicator that your pasta is cooked al dente.  Al dente pasta should have the slightest speck of white in the center when you bite into it. If you don’t see the Punto Verde, then your pasta is overcooked and is already past the al dente stage.

Al dente Pasta photo by Sweet Hersey Living
Al dente Pasta / Photo by Sweet Hersey Living

7.   Drain, don’t rinse.

Draining the pasta lets the cooking process continue until the pasta is put on a plate. Rinsing it will get rid of the starches that make the sauce stick.  Before draining the pasta, save some of the pasta water in case your sauce is too heavy.

draining Photo by Recipetips
Draining the pasta / Photo by Recipetips

8.  Got Sauce?

Get your pot of sauce ready and place the pasta in the pot, turn on the heat, and sauté for a few minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the water you used to cook the pasta. The pasta water is plenty of starch that enhances the sauce and makes the sauce stick to the pasta better.

SAUSAGE & MUSHROOM PASTA One-Pot-Sausage-Mushroom-Pasta-pot Photo by BudgetBytes
Sausage and Mushroom sauce with pasta / Photo by BudgetBytes

9.   Serve Prontissimo!

Like almost all food, pasta is always best served freshly cooked and hot. Adding grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, or fresh herbs like basil or parsley is a guaranteed way to enhance its flavor. Traditionally, pasta is considered un primo piatto (first course) and should be eaten by itself so you can fully enjoy its harmony of flavors. It should not be eaten together with meat or fish (secondi piatti or second course), which is normally served afterwards with vegetables.

Pasta with Salsa Cruda Photo by Ellen Aknner Arugula
Pasta with Salsa Cruda / Photo by Ellen Aknner Arugula

10.   Create new from the old.

Do not reheat your left-over pasta in the microwave or even in the pan. It will only make it taste awful. Make another dish out of it by baking it with other ingredients like cured meat, boiled eggs, vegetables and don’t forget to add mozzarella and you have a pasticcio (which literally means “a mess”!). If you are not too crazy over pasticcio, you can turn leftover pasta, especially ravioli, tortellini, or penne into a great casserole by simply baking it with a simple white sauce (or leftover red sauce), vegetable and cheese. If you choose to be bolder, of course, you can also stir-fry your leftover pasta in a hot pan with chopped veggies and leftover cooked meat. Add some soy sauce or any other sauce to your liking and now, you have a new dish!

Pastitsio Photo by Wikipedia.jpg
Pasticcio / Photo by Wikipedia


Pasta Bake Photo by Renee Comet
Pasta Bake / Photo by Renee Comet, Television Food Network


Stir-fried Pasta (Photo by Renee Comet), Television Food Network.jpeg
Stir-fried Pasta / Photo by Renee Comet, Television Food Network

Buon appetito!


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dee says:

    These are such great tips! I’ve definitely been guilty of a few no-nos..


    1. Me too! Thanks, Dee!

      Liked by 1 person

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