How to Boil Perfect Pasta Every Single Time

Most people screw it up, says Marc Vetri, executive chef of Alla Spina in Philadelphia. Allow Chef to school you.

March 11, 2016
boiling pasta

When hunger strikes, a hearty bowl of noodles can always set you right, says Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

Pasta satisfies the soul, fills the belly, and hits the table in mere minutes. Plus, it's a great way to pack in your vegetables—especially if you flip the traditional ratio of noodles to sauce so the pasta's still integral to the meal, just not the focus. Whether the sauce highlights vegetables, cheese, seafood, or meat, it's almost invariably the best part of the dish anyway. Start with the base—the noodles themselves—and you'll discover that you can shift the balance of almost any pasta dish in favor of sauce supremacy. 


More: How to Make Fresh Pasta on the Cheap

Marc Vetri, executive chef of Alla Spina in Philadelphia, knows the how-to on pasta preparation. Allow him to school you: 

1. Go deep
You want enough water in your cooking vessel to prevent the pasta from clumping together. So grab the largest pot in your kitchen (8- to 10-quart options work best for one pound of pasta) and fill it about three-fourths of the way full with hot water, to save time on boiling.

2. Add salt
Flip your burner's heat to high and salt the water heavily. If you're using an 8-quart pot, that's about three tablespoons of kosher salt. Most of the salt will stay in the water, leaving the pasta perfectly seasoned. Cover the pot with a lid to bring the water to a boil faster.

3. Drop and stir
When your water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta and immediately stir. This will ensure the pasta does not stick together. There's no need to add olive oil—that doesn't help with sticking. Just continue to stir occasionally throughout the cooking process, leaving the lid slightly ajar when you're not stirring to encourage a rolling boil.

More: How to Build Your Dinner Plate for Weight Loss

4. Test with your teeth
Your goal is al dente—pasta that's just tender but still has a bite. Boxed pasta usually reaches al dente about a minute before the package instructions say to drain it. The only true way to check: Pull out a piece of pasta and bite into it.


5. Finish it
Pasta should never wait in the sink in a colander or else it will turn gummy. For a fast finish, set up your colander in the sink while the pasta cooks and have your sauce ready and waiting for the pasta. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Then, return the drained pasta back to the pot, add the reserved pasta water, and then add the pasta sauce. The starches in the pasta water help the sauce cling to the pasta, creating a creamier, more flavorful pasta dish. Stir before serving.

Adapted from Guy Gourmet