How To Cook Pasta

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You might think you know how to cook pasta: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, toss in the dry noodles, cook until tender, strain and serve. And, of course, you wouldn’t be wrong. But did you know there are several other ways to prepare pasta? Learn how to cook pasta using 10 different methods, each with its own unique advantages.

Each pasta preparation method has notable results that might make one process better suited for specific recipes. For instance, if you want crisp noodles to top a salad, simple boiling won’t cut it. As you learn how to cook pasta using various techniques, consider what dishes might benefit from each process and add it to your “culinary toolkit.”

1. Start Pasta In Cold Water

You can start preparing pasta in cold water, rather than waiting for water to boil. According to the Food Network’s Alton Brown, this speeds up the process and also requires less energy. Plus, it results in concentrated, extra-starchy cooking water that you can use to give sauces a creamy finish.

Add a 16-ounce package of dry pasta and a tablespoon of salt to 64 fluid ounces of cold water in a pot. Put the cover on the pan and set over medium-high heat until it boils. Then, remove the lid, decrease the heat to simmer and cook until the pasta is al dente or about 4-5 minutes. Use a spider strainer to remove the pasta rather than a colander.

how to cook dried pasta water
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2. Toast Your Uncooked Pasta

If you have ever made a packaged pasta and rice mixture, such as Rice-A-Roni, you have firsthand knowledge of how flavorful toasted pasta can be. America’s Test Kitchen says you can toast uncooked noodles spread on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Or, break it into smaller pieces and toast with a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until browned. Then, continue to prepare as usual or add liquid and cook it like risotto. You can even microwave pasta coated in a little oil at 50% power for 3-5 minutes until some pieces look blistered.

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3. Roast And Soak Pasta

Much like toasting, roasting pasta gives it a richer, nuttier flavor. The Ideas in Food blog recommends that you roast pasta in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes and then hydrate them by soaking the noodles in cold water for about 90 minutes. Finish in boiling water for a minute or so until hot and then add seasoning or topping as desired.

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4. Forget The Boil: Simply Simmer It

Another way to cook pasta is to submerge it in just enough water to cover it and then let it simmer. It doesn’t even have to boil! Serious Eats’ The Food Lab says this technique works the best for dry pasta in smaller shapes, as it must be submerged entirely from the beginning.

Next, bring the water to a boil, cover and remove from heat, allowing it to simmer until it is done. You’ll want to stir it a bit. This method saves some energy, won’t warm your house as much (which is great for hot days), and results in extra-thick, starchy pasta water that’s perfect for sauces.

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5. Boil Pasta In Milk Or Broth

If you’re whipping up a batch of creamy, gooey mac and cheese, you can save a step and start by boiling it in milk. When you cook the noodles in milk, the starchy liquid creates a thick sauce that you can finish up with lots of your favorite shredded cheese. Livestrong advises bringing two cups of milk to a simmer, add a cup of macaroni, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until done.

If you prefer, you can do the same with broth, either homemade or store-bought. Health.com says this adds flavor and minerals to that thick, starchy pasta water.

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6. Cook Pasta In Your Sauce

Another way to bypass a step when preparing pasta is to cook it in the sauce you want to use. This technique can take a little more time, but you’ll dirty fewer dishes and have a creamy, starchy meal when it’s done.

The Food to Impress blog says to dilute the sauce so that it covers the dry pasta in the pot. Continue adding small amounts of liquid while cooking whenever the pasta starts to dry out until it is done.

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7. Microwave Your Pasta

If you don’t have access to a stove, you might want to figure out how to cook pasta in the microwave. All you need to do, according to Tablespoon, is add up to 1 cup of dry pasta to a microwave-safe bowl, cover with water until the level is two inches higher than the pasta, and cook on high for three to four minutes longer than the cooking time stated on the package. Note: You might want to place a microwave-safe plate under the bowl to catch any starchy water that boils over.

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8. Stir-Fry Your Pasta

When you’re frying pasta in any form, you’ll have to cook it the regular way first, so frying involves extra steps — but also yields some amazing results if you love crispy noodles.

You can use all sorts of pasta types in stir-fry recipes, such as spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine. First, boil the noodles, then add them to your pan near the end of the stir-frying process, tossing the pasta with the other ingredients only long enough to heat thoroughly.

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9. Deep-Fry Your Pasta

Deep fryers aren’t just for state fairs. Deep-fried noodles are crunchy, savory and delightful. Enjoy them as a topper for soups and salads, an addition to stir-fried vegetables or a snack.

You’ll want to try this recipe from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman. You do have to boil your pasta first, which makes this a great way to use leftover pasta. Fry the noodles in hot grease until golden brown, about two minutes, and season as desired.

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10. Air-Fry Your Pasta

If a crunchy noodle sounds fantastic, but you don’t want the greasiness of deep-frying, you can pop pasta in the air fryer to make snack-worthy pasta chips. This actually became quite the TikTok trend earlier the year, with many people trying the recipe on social media.

Start with bite-size pasta, like farfalle or penne. You’ll have to boil it first. Then, toss your pasta shapes in a little oil and air-fry at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until crisp.

Here’s the post from one of the trend’s earlier proponents, @bostonfoodgram, to show you how it’s done:

@bostonfoodgramPASTA CHIPS✨ ##fyp ##homecook ##airfryer ##foodontiktok ##pastachips ##tiktoktailgate ##foryou ##tiktokrecipes ##boston ##bostonfood♬ Do It – Chloe x Halle

Now that you know how to cook pasta in so many ways, which method will you try first?