I thought I knew how to cook pasta, but it turns out I’ve been doing it wrong for my entire adult life. Here’s how to cook pasta that doesn’t stick.
My pasta problems began recently when my pasta suddenly began sticking together. I had no idea why, and it was so frustrating. Dave and Darrol both love pasta, so it’s become a once- or twice-a-week meal in our house. I was spending time separating pieces of penne by hand instead of playing with my baby. Annoying doesn’t begin to cover it.
In a moment of desperation, I crowdsourced some tips on Facebook, and people had so many great suggestions to share! Now my pasta turns out perfect every time. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to cook pasta, perfectly!
Your pot is probably too small.
If you’re having a problem with pasta pieces sticking together, chances are you need a bigger pot. I was using my Dutch oven to boil my pasta, and that didn’t give those yummy noodles nearly enough room to tumble. If you’re making a whole box of pasta, you really need a pot that will hold five or six quarts. I think the reason that this has been a new problem for me is that I’ve never been the person cooking a whole box of pasta. Until I had a toddler who could eat his weight in ziti. There was just too much pasta in too small a space.
Stir, stir, stir.
I’ve read that you need to stir the pasta when you first put it into the pot, but I’ve found that stirring every few minutes is even better. Plus, you’re less likely to boil over if you’re taking the lid off and stirring more frequently.
Oil is not the answer.
When the sticking problem started happening, I started using oil, thinking it would help keep things moving. Turns out that oil in pasta water is a serious no-no. When I mentioned this tactic on Facebook, people had visceral reactions. So I looked up why, and from what I’m reading, the oil keeps your sauce from sticking to the cooked pasta. Whoops!
The jury is out on salt.
Some people are adamantly pro salt in the water. Some are staunchly anti salt. There were so many strong feelings out there, that I decided to try it both ways. I haven’t really noticed a difference when I salt the water or don’t, so now I usually don’t. Why add an ingredient that doesn’t seem to do anything, right? If you’re worried about the water boiling over, leave the lid off and put a wooden spoon on top instead. I’ve tried this, and it works!
Taste, taste, taste.
Pasta cooking times vary quite a bit, and I have the best luck when I start tasting the pasta early on. So, if the box says 9-12 minutes, start tasting at 9 minutes on the dot, and taste again every minute or so. The window for that perfect al dente result can be narrow, especially with quicker-cooking pastas. Manning the stove at the end of the cooking time can make a big difference.
BONUS TIP: If you’re making a pasta dish with beans in it, you can cook the canned beans in the same pot as the pasta.