How to Cook Pasta

5 from 2594 votes

Learn How to Cook Pasta perfectly. Follow my step-by-step tutorial to cook spaghetti, or other types and serve with sauce or in a pasta salad!

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Knowing how to cook pasta properly is the foundation for many a great meal. Simply follow a few basic rules: use a big pot with lots of water, more salt than you think you need, and watch the clock. Below I’ll share my easy technique for cooking pasta perfectly whether to serve in warm dishes or a salad.

dried spaghetti in a pot with water
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Pasta is affordable, has a long shelf-life (two years!), and is low in fat. Yes, it’s a carb, but eaten as part of a balanced diet it’s a great source of energy. Choose the whole wheat varieties for more protein and hunger-killing fiber.

How to cook pasta perfectly

According to legendary Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, the spaghetti or pasta itself should be the final thing you cook when making a pasta dinner. Everything else, sauce, etc., should be ready to go. That way, the spaghetti can be drained, tossed with sauce for proper sauce-noodle adhesion and served pronto!

Cooking pasta for warm sauce

Fill a large pot with six quarts water. Bring to a boil. Add salt. Be generous, this salt seasons the pasta as it cooks and penetrates into the noodles.

hand adding salt to water in a pot

Add the dried pasta. Stir until the water returns to a boil. Set a timer for one minute less than the package instructions recommend. Test for doneness at this point. If you like your pasta very firm (al dente) or are going to be simmering for a while in sauce, check and remove even sooner.

cooking pasta in a pot with water

Now, strain and cool briefly, but do not rinse. Rinsing washing away the starch that helps the sauce stick to the pasta. Toss in olive oil instead.

overhead shot of pasta in a colander

When ready to use, add to warm sauce, toss and finish cooking or chill for later use.

overhead shot of cooking pasta in a skillet with sauce

Cooking pasta for salads

As above, fill pot with six quarts of water, bring to a boil, add salt, followed by dry pasta. For pasta salad, cook according to packaged directions.

side by side shot of pasta cooking in pots

Next, strain and cool briefly, but do not rinse. Toss in olive oil immediately when it’s still warm.

bowl of cooked pasta with oil poured on it

Finally, cool to room temp and refrigerate covered.

bowl of cooked pasta with oil poured on it

Favorite pasta recipes

Frequently asked questions

Can you cook pasta in the microwave?

Technically, yes, but it takes a good two to three minutes longer than the stovetop and has to be done in a large microwaveable container. Save as an emergency method if you find yourself without a stovetop .

How do you store cooked pasta?

Store cooked pasta in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator where it should last up to five days.

Can you freeze cooked pasta?

Frozen plain pasta can be mushy when thawed and reheated. Freezing works best for sauced dishes, especially baked pasta recipes like lasagna.

Is it safe to eat dried pasta past its expiration date?

Pasta is one of those foods that can go beyond its expiration date but it might taste very bland. However, egg noodle pastas like papparadelle and tagliatelle may become rancid. Use the sniff test.

How much spaghetti is one serving?

If you read the back of 1 lb. box of spaghetti, it is likely to say it contains eight servings – two ounces per serving. But realistically, it is better to plan for three to four ounces per adult.

overhead shot of bowl of spaghetti and sauce

A key ingredient in everything from easy pantry meals like spaghetti with marinara to time-intensive special occasion fare like lasagna, pasta is a kitchen MVP: warm and soothing comfort food that is always in the cupboard!

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How to Cook Pasta

Learn How to Cook Pasta perfectly. Follow my step-by-step tutorial to cook spaghetti, or other types and serve with sauce or in a pasta salad!
5 from 2594 votes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 210
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 18 minutes
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  • 1 pound pasta dried
  • 6 quarts water
  • 3 tablespoons salt


  • Fill a pot with six quarts water, bring to a boil.
  • Add the salt, followed by the dried pasta.
  • Stir until the water returns to a boil.

With a Sauce or Cooling For Later

  • Cook for one minute less than the packaged instructions.
  • Strain and cool briefly, but do not rinse. Toss in olive oil.
  • When ready to use, add to warm sauce and finish cooking or chill.

With a Cold Salad

  • Cook according to packaged instructions
  • Strain and cool briefly, but do not rinse. Toss in olive oil.
  • Place in refrigerator covered.


Storage: Store any leftovers in an airtight container. They will last up to 5 days in the fridge.
Photo Credit: Erin Jensen


Calories: 210kcal, Carbohydrates: 42g, Protein: 7g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 2655mg, Potassium: 126mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 2g, Calcium: 35mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.

Cuisine Italian
Course: Main Course

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Recipe Rating


  1. kk says:

    This was so helpful

    1. Yumna J. says:

      Awesome, I’m so glad you found it helpful!

  2. Bert says:

    One important step you omitted in your pasta cooking primer: always save a cup or two of pasta water to use in tempering some pasta sauces.

    1. Yumna J. says:

      Thank you for the feedback, Bert. I don’t consider that part of how to cook pasta, but that is a good tip for how to make pasta sauce!

  3. Jasmeh kaur says:


  4. Norm Shaw says:

    how do you break up the spaghetti and do you usually cook the whole package. I am a lousy cook and need baby lessons-really Norm P,S, my wife recently died and I have never boiled an egg.

    1. Yumna Jawad says:

      It helps to toss in olive oil to break up the pasta/ spaghetti strands. The amount I cook is based on how many I’m about to serve and what recipe I’m making. Hope that helps!

  5. Sheri says:

    I use Whole Wheat Pasta. Much better for you as the white one raised the blood sugar and there are a lot of diabetic out there.

    1. Yumna Jawad says:

      You can definitely switch it up based on your preferences!

  6. jOE says:

    This recipe doesn’t make sense. it appears to be incomplete. Nothing in the ingredients about olive oil but its in the instructions.
    Then its says add to warm sauce and finish cooking? how? and how long?

    1. Yumna Jawad says:

      The olive oil is optional – using or not using it will depend on what recipe the pasta is being used in. The same goes for the sauce. This tutorial teaches you how to cook pasta, and the pasta can then be used in pasta recipes according to those instructions.

  7. Nanise Raboiliku says:

    Thank you, easy and simple to follow. How do I make pasta sauce?

  8. khloe says:


    1. Yumna Jawad says:


  9. Cecilia blessing says:

    Very helpful ,nice and looks Delicious

    1. Yumna Jawad says:

      Thank you so much!