Learn how to make the perfect pot of spaghetti noodles that’s not too mushy, not too firm … just right. Every. Time.
- Should I cook sauce or pasta first?
- What is a good size pot for boiling pasta?
- What is the correct ratio of water to pasta?
- Do you put pasta in cold or boiling water?
- How much salt should you add to your pasta water?
- How do I keep spaghetti from sticking together?
- Do I need to put olive oil in pasta water?
- How long should I boil spaghetti?
- What’s the best way to drain pasta?
- Do you rinse cooked pasta?
- Do you put olive oil on spaghetti after cooking?
- Let's Stay in Touch
- Step-by-step Instructions
- What to Serve with Spaghetti
- What Dessert Goes with Spaghetti?
There’s something so soothing about cozying up to a big bowl of pasta at the end of a long day. In fact, on a comfort food Likert scale, I’d put it in the 8-10-ish range, right along with pizza, chili, casserole, and ice cream.
Besides being the best comfort food ever, spaghetti is so easy to make, super economical, and you can feed an army with just one box.
But even boiling spaghetti, which is a fairly simple task, can be rife with opportunities to get it wrong. And those instructions on the pasta packages will only get you so far toward cooking spaghetti that’s well-seasoned, perfectly al dente, and doesn’t stick together.
So, I’m answering ALL the questions about how to cook spaghetti noodles to help you figure out things like:
✔️ If you should boil your spaghetti before or after you make the sauce
✔️ How much water you need
✔️ How much salt to use
✔️ Whether or not you really need olive oil
✔️ To rinse or not to rinse
✔️ … and a whole lot more!
Then keep reading to get my step-by-step guide to boiling the perfect pot of spaghetti.
Should I cook sauce or pasta first?
Ideally, you will toss your freshly cooked spaghetti in sauce immediately after the pasta is done cooking. So, cook your sauce first or time it so the sauce and pasta are done at the same time.
What is a good size pot for boiling pasta?
A 6-8 quart pasta pot will give you plenty of room for one pound of dry pasta and the boiling water.
When boiling spaghetti, you want to make sure to use a large enough pot to give the pasta plenty of room to move around in the boiling water.
What is the correct ratio of water to pasta?
A general rule of thumb when cooking spaghetti is to use 4 quarts of water for every pound of pasta, or one quart of water per four ounces. Pasta needs a lot of water to swim around in. If you use less water than this, the spaghetti could stick together.
It’s always best to use cold water for cooking because hot water from the tap can contain impurities.
Do you put pasta in cold or boiling water?
Turn the heat on your stove to high and bring the water to a rolling boil before you add the pasta. I like to add the lid to my pot to speed up this process.
The rolling movement of the water keeps the spaghetti moving around in the pot so it doesn’t stick together.
If you put the spaghetti into cold water while it’s heating up, the pasta will start to absorb the water and it can lead to soft, mushy spaghetti. Ish.
For the most consistently cooked al dente pasta that doesn’t stick together, bring the water to a boil before adding the pasta.
How much salt should you add to your pasta water?
Quick answer: 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt per pound of pasta is a good place to start. Then taste it and adjust it to your preferences — and according to the salt level in your pasta sauce.
Here’s why. You’ve probably heard that you should boil pasta in salted water. And maybe even that it should be as salty as the sea. But … How salty is that? And why is it even important?
Salting the pasta during cooking is the only way to season the pasta. For best results, add the salt when the water is boiling. If you add salt when the water is cold, it will likely just sink to the bottom, so be sure to give it a good stir until the salt dissolves.
How do I keep spaghetti from sticking together?
When you add the pasta to the boiling water, use tongs to twist it around to fully immerse it into the water.
Let the water come back up to a full boil and stir the spaghetti around so it doesn’t clump together or stick to the bottom of the pan.
Keep the burner on high and keep the lid off while the pasta is boiling. Boiling pasta with the lid on can cause the water to overboil.
If the water starts to boil over, drop the heat slightly until it resumes a nice, even rolling boil.
Another trick to keeping your pasta water from boiling over is to rest a wooden spoon across the top of the pot. I swear it works.
Do I need to put olive oil in pasta water?
No. Some people add olive oil, claiming that it keeps the pasta from sticking. As long as your pasta has plenty of room to move around the pot, I have found this step unnecessary. Also, when you add olive oil to the pasta, it can keep your sauce from adhering to it.
Even Lidia Bastianich has reportedly said, “Do not — I repeat, do not — add oil to your pasta cooking water! And that’s an order!”
How long should I boil spaghetti?
To make pasta that is perfectly al dente, or slightly firm to the bite, boil spaghetti for two minutes less than the cooking time on the package.
Check it by CAREFULLY removing one strand of spaghetti from the pot (it will be HOT!), letting it cool slightly, then biting into it. It shouldn’t be mushy and it shouldn’t be crunchy. And it shouldn’t taste raw.
If it’s still a little too firm, keep it boiling for another minute. If you like your pasta softer, boil it for a couple of minutes longer until you achieve what you’re looking for.
TIP: If you’re going to be simmering the pasta with sauce later on, remove the pasta from the water when it’s still a tad firm so it can finish cooking in the sauce without turning to mush.
What’s the best way to drain pasta?
But before you do anything, it's always a good idea to save at least one cup of the pasta water. This starchy water is called liquid gold for a reason. You can use it to season and thicken your sauce, or toss with your cooked pasta if it sits for a minute too long before adding the sauce.
Do you rinse cooked pasta?
No. After you drain the spaghetti, do not rinse it. You’ll just be washing away the starch that will help the sauce stick to the pasta.
The only exceptions are if you are using your spaghetti noodles to make a cold pasta salad or stir fry. Rinsing the spaghetti with water will stop the cooking process so you don’t end up with mushy salad or stir fry.
Do you put olive oil on spaghetti after cooking?
No. If you toss the cooked pasta in olive oil before you toss it in sauce, you’re just going to make the noodles slippery and impossible for the sauce to grab onto.
Just add a little pasta water to your sauce to flavor and thicken it, then toss the pasta and the sauce together.
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- Have your sauce warming while you boil the spaghetti so you can immediately toss your freshly cooked pasta with the sauce.
2. Fill a 6-8 quart pot with 4 quarts of cold water for one pound of spaghetti. This will give the noodles plenty of room and enough water to move around in so it doesn’t stick together.
3. Turn your stove on high, place a lid on the pot (to make the water boil faster, optional), and bring the water to a rolling, rapid boil.
4. Add 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt to the boiling water. This is your one chance to flavor the pasta, don’t pass it up!
5. Use tongs to completely submerge the pasta into the boiling water. Let the water come back up to a rolling boil and stir it around so it doesn’t clump together or stick to the bottom of the pan. Keep the lid off of the pot.
Keep the stove on high. If the water starts to boil over, slightly reduce the heat, but keep the water at a rolling boil.
PRO TIP: Resting a wooden spoon across the top of the pot will keep the water from boiling over. 🤯
6. No need to add olive oil to the boiling water. As long as your spaghetti has plenty of room to move around the pot, it won’t stick together.
7. For al dente spaghetti, boil the pasta for about two minutes less than the cook time on the package. Carefully remove one piece of pasta and check it for doneness. If it’s not mushy, not crunchy, but slightly firm when you bite into it, it’s perfectly al dente! If you like it softer, cook it for a bit longer.
8. Before draining the pasta, use a ladle to carefully remove 1-2 cups of pasta water from the pot. Use the reserved pasta water to flavor and thicken your sauce or loosen up stuck together pasta.
9. Drain the pasta and do not rinse it with water. Rinsing will remove the starch which helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
10. Do not add olive oil to the cooked pasta before adding your sauce. Olive oil will make the spaghetti slippery and your sauce won’t adhere.
11. Toss your hot pasta with your favorite sauce, serve, and enjoy!
What to Serve with Spaghetti
Wondering what else to serve with your favorite pasta recipes? Take a twirl through this round-up to find the best appetizers, salads, sides, and main dishes that will pair perfectly with pasta, like:
- Goat Cheese Croquettes
- Cheesy Garlic Bread
- Burrata Salad
- Baked Portobello Mushrooms
- Slow Cooker Meatballs
- … and more!
What Dessert Goes with Spaghetti?
If you’re like me, no meal is complete without something sweet at the end. These are my favorite desserts to serve with spaghetti.