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How to cook pasta

03 April 2015 ( 29 January 2021 )

Pasta is quick, cheap and easy. Find out the best way to cook pasta for perfect boiled pasta every time.

How to cook pasta

Cooking pasta seems straightforward. Simply throw it into some boiling water and when soft, serve it up. Yet avoiding a soggy mess of overcooked pasta means paying close attention to the cooking process. So, whether you’re serving up penne, tagliatelle or spaghetti, here’s how to cook perfect pasta every time.

How to cook pasta

1. Fill a large saucepan with plenty of water – about one litre per 100g of pasta. Too little water will make your pasta sticky. Add salt to the water – one or two teaspoons should be enough for a large pot.

2. Place the saucepan over a high heat and bring the water to a roiling boil. This means lots of bubbles and movement across the whole surface of the water.

3. Measure the pasta you need. Allow 75-100g of dried, or 115-150g of fresh, pasta per person for a main meal. Refer to your recipe if necessary.

4. Slowly add the pasta to the boiling water and stir to stop the pasta from sticking together.

5. Start timing when the water returns to a boil. Most pasta cooks in 8-12 minutes but check the packaging for specific cooking times. If necessary, lower the heat slightly during cooking so the water doesn't foam up and over the pan sides.

6. When the cooking time has expired, check the pasta by carefully fishing a piece out of the water with a spoon or fork, and tasting it.

Pasta is best served ‘al dente’ (‘to the tooth’ in Italian), which means it should feel slightly firm in the middle when you bite through it. If the pasta is still too hard or you prefer your pasta softer, continue to cook it.

Remember though, pasta will continue to cook when removed from the direct heat so it’s best to undercook it slightly to your preference.

7. Remove the saucepan from the heat and drain the pasta in a colander. Don’t rinse it as this removes the surface starch that lets the sauce stick to the pasta. However, if you’re serving pasta cold in a salad, it’s OK to rinse to avoid clumpy pasta.

8. Return the pasta to the saucepan and add whatever sauce you’ve chosen.

Visit our pasta recipe section for different ways to serve pasta.

Can you cook different pasta shapes together?

Don’t cook different pasta shapes or brands together in same saucepan. They’ll have different cooking times so won’t be ready at the same time.

How long does pasta take to cook?

Cooking times vary depending on the pasta. Fresh pasta cooks in under 3 minutes, while dried pasta usually cooks in 8-12 minutes, depending on the shape.

Time the cooking carefully as pasta can overcook very quickly. Undercook pasta if adding it to a baked dish, as it will finish cooking in the sauce while in the oven.

How long does pasta bake take to cook?

Dried pasta can be cooked in the oven as part of a pasta bake. This takes longer to cook than on the hob, usually around 30 minutes, and the dried pasta absorbs liquid from the sauce so you'll need to water it down and might require some trial and error to get just right. One option is to partially cook your pasta, or to soak it in hot water, before adding to the sauce. This stops it absorbing too much liquid from the sauce. Pour your sauce onto the pasta, as well as additional extras like cheese or tuna, and place in a preheated oven.

Try our recipe for easy tuna pasta bake.

Should you add oil to the pasta water?

Don’t add oil to the cooking water, unless cooking lasagne sheets. Oil will coat the pasta, stopping the sauce from adhering to it. However, a drop or two of oil will reduce the foaming that causes the water to boil over, which is useful if you’re using a shallow saucepan rather than a tall pasta pot.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.