Pasta Cooking Myths buster: We’ve been cooking pasta for a long time and have encountered numerous old wives’ tales when it comes to the best way to do so. Here are the top myths we’ve encountered—and debunked.
Top 9 Myths about Pasta Cooking
MYTH: The best dried pastas come from Italy.
- FACT: In taste tests, we’ve found that American spaghetti rivaled Italian pasta in terms of flavor and texture, and it costs much less.
Pasta Cooking MYTH: A pot of hot tap water will boil much more quickly than a pot of cold tap water.
- FACT: Using hot tap water will save you only about 1½ minutes; we tested this using four quarts of water on an average stove. Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that hot tap water can contain higher levels of lead than cold tap water; they recommend running cold tap water (until the water is as cold as it can get) to ensure that any lead deposits are flushed out.
MYTH: Cooking the pasta in gently simmering water, rather than water at a rolling boil, will prevent boilovers after you add the pasta.
- FACT: Boilovers happen not because of the water’s temperature, but because of the size of the pot. So be sure to use a large pot (at least 6 quarts).
MYTH: Adding salt to the cooking water at the outset will make it come to a boil more quickly.
- FACT: While salt will help the water boil more quickly, any undissolved grains may “pit” the pot, leaving marks that can’t be washed away. The real reason to add salt is that it adds flavor—you should add at least a tablespoon of table salt for 4 quarts of water when cooking a pound of pasta. Add it with the pasta, not before, so it will dissolve and not stain the pot.
MYTH: Adding oil to the cooking water will keep pasta from sticking together as it cooks.
- FACT: Don’t waste your oil—it merely floats on top of the water, doing nothing for the pasta. The oil coats the pasta only when you drain it—and this prevents the sauce from sticking. To keep pasta from sticking, give the pot a stir several times while it’s cooking.
MYTH: You should always follow the cooking times written on the pasta box.
- FACT: While the cooking directions on the box will give you an idea of how long the pasta will take to cook, these times are usually too long and will result in mushy, overcooked pasta. Taste the pasta a few minutes ahead of time to determine the doneness; we prefer pasta cooked al dente, when it has a little bite left in the center.
MYTH: The best way to tell if pasta cooked is to throw it against the wall to see if it sticks.
- FACT: Throwing pasta at the wall only makes a mess. The best way to tell if your pasta is cooked perfectly—al dente—is to pluck a piece or two from the pot and taste it.
MYTH: When draining pasta, you should shake the colander to remove all the water you can.
- FACT: When draining the pasta, leave it a little wet. The small amount of cooking water that remains on the pasta helps to spread the sauce and is especially useful when tossing pasta with relatively dry oil-based sauces. It’s also a good idea to reserve a little pasta cooking water in case you need to thin out a thick sauce.
MYTH: You should rinse the pasta after draining it to wash away any excess starch.
- FACT: Unless you’re making a chilled pasta salad, leave the pasta hot and slightly starchy; the starch will help the sauce cling to the pasta.