Pasta in a restaurant is always perfect. It’s al dente, never mushy. The sauce is perfect, glossy and clings to every last noodle. The garnishes are bright and beautiful. It’s Instagram-ready, yes, but more than that it’s just delicious. So why does pasta at home never taste as good? Well, here are three tips and tricks to help elevate your own homemade noodle game.
1. Don’t just cook it al dente—undercook it
On the box, pasta usually has a range of cooking times, depending on the texture you like your pasta (spoiler alert: Unless you have strep or are a teething baby, al dente is the only appropriate answer). But you should really be cooking your pasta for two to three minutes LESS than the “al dente” suggestion on the box.
This is because, and stay with me here, you’re going to finish your pasta with the sauce in a sauté pan. I don’t care if you’re heating up a jar of Prego: heat the sauce in the pan. Finish the undercooked noodles in that heated sauce. The result will be perfect pasta that has been infused with the flavors of the warmed sauce. This is a world of difference from gummy noodles covered in microwaved gravy.
2. Heat your spices
To really make dried herbs sing, you need to heat them in a pan of hot oil. This technique is called “blooming” and you’re a real chef now. Only kidding, but blooming your spices will take those dusty red pepper flakes from drab to fab.
Gently heating spices in oil draws out their natural flavors. One of my favorite pasta sauces is simply sautéed red pepper flakes, dried oregano, basil and marjoram with a few garlic cloves and some salt. Once you heat all of that in some good olive oil, it becomes an amazingly flavorful sauce. So stop just shaking dry herbs on top of your spaghetti and calling it a day.
3. Keep stirring your noodles
Don’t just dump your pasta into boiling water and walk into the next room! You need to keep that water moving to ensure that the pasta doesn’t clump and that every piece cooks evenly. You don’t have to stand over it sweating like you would with risotto, but give it a good stir every minute or so.
And a sneaky secret? The pros use a single long chopstick to do the stirring, not a big wooden spoon. So if you have some extra chopsticks lying around (and you probably do), put them into action! The skinny tip is adept at separating any clumps of noodles and moving jets of water around the pot.
For more ideas, check out these pro tips for cooking pasta. Bon appetit!