The Basics: Making Pasta

It sounds easy, right? Boil water, put pasta in, drain the pasta, and add the sauce. But there's a lot of different steps in it. I'll walk you through it in this post.

First, fill a big pot with water from the tap. You can use hot water if you want to speed up the process. It'll tell you in the recipe and on the box how much water to use, but there's no need to measure it as long as you err on the side of more water than it asks for. If you use a big pot, fill it a little over halfway. That'll give the pasta room to expand (which it will) and the water room to boil (...which it also will).

Turn on the burner to high, and, to speed things up, you can also put the lid on the pot, which will make it get to boiling faster. Keep an eye on it, though - it should take 5 to 10 minutes to start boiling depending on the water temperature when you started and how hot your burner is.

When it starts boiling, add about 2 Tbs salt.  Then, pour in the pasta you're cooking.

Some considerations:
  • Short pasta like elbow macaroni and shells are good for chunky sauces, like bolognese with ground beef in it or shrimp alfredo sauce
  • Long pasta like spaghetti needs to be stirred to make sure it's submerged in the water as soon as it softens - this makes sure it cooks evenly
As soon as you pour it into the boiling water, the water will stop boiling for a few seconds. Take a wooden spoon (you can use whatever, but I like wooden spoons so I don't accidentally scratch the bottom of the pot) and stir it to break up the pasta. It's important to do this as soon as you add it so it doesn't stick together, then I also stir it every 2 or 3 minutes to make sure it's still separated.

Cook for the time on the box - which I say because it will vary depending on the type of pasta you're using. Al dente is good if you're making a dish where you will then bake the pasta again with the sauce in it. Otherwise, I just cook it until tender - which was 7 minutes for the penne.

When it's done, drain it into a colander that you set in a sink. This is the easiest way to drain long pasta like spaghetti, angel hair, or fettuccine, but if you have smaller pasta you can always scoop it out with a slotted spoon. Pasta water is starchy and salty, so it's okay to keep a tiny bit of it around, or even to add it to the sauce if you're using something homemade.

For this, I'm leaving the pasta in the colander while I add the sauce to the pan. This lets the hot pan heat up the sauce a bit for just a moment, so that if you're using sauce from a jar on the shelf you don't need to heat it ahead of time.

Put the pasta back into the pan. Mix it into the sauce, and taste it so you can add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, or parmesan cheese if you want some more flavor.

  • Some recipes will say to add olive oil when you finish draining it; this prevents the sauce from sticking so I wouldn't recommend that. The only exception is if you aren't putting the sauce on the pasta immediately for whatever reason. Oil will keep the pasta from sticking together as it cools.
  • I served mine with chicken cutlets that I pan fried for about 5 minutes per side, then sliced and added it to the pasta. You can add shrimp, ground beef, tomato slices, meatballs, or anything you want to bulk up the dish.