Weeknight Cooking

3 Simple Steps To Take When Cooking Pasta

November 24, 2015

Stock is one of the building blocks of a well-stocked kitchen (and pasta sauce), so we've partnered with Progresso Cooking Stock to share recipes that will get you through the holidays.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

We’ve all got our cozy, fall weeknight go-tos: Salads and stews. Gratins and grain bowls. For me, it’s pasta. (For you, too? Feels good to meet kindred spirits.) It might be how little effort it takes to boil water and plop on a few toppings, or just how comforting and versatile the all-year-round staple is. Pasta makes even the shortest evenings feel like you have time to do things you want, and not just things that are needed.

Always having a box of pasta and some pantry staples lying around is helpful for when you inevitably return from the farmers market with an extra vegetable or few. (The squash just looked so good! Not getting the broccoli seemed absurd!) And when you head to the stove after a long day, it’s easy to go through the motions with stone hands, shrugging off itsy things that will make pasta that much better.

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But take a deep breath (or practice the after-work ritual of wine) and remember these three old-school pointers every time you break out the spaghetti:

1. Salt your water.

Photo by James Ransom

It's the oldest trick in the pasta playbook, and no, we don't think you don't know—but it bears repeating, if not just for those sleepy moments: Salt your water! It's the one chance you've got to give the pasta itself some flavor, and you can give it a good jolt with just a teaspoon or two. The salted pasta water, too, will help later on when you want an impromptu sauce.

More: Two other ways to boil pasta. (Yes, there's more than one—and no eye rolling!)

2. Stop the boil early.

Photo by James Ransom

Take what your packaged pasta says with a grain of salt (sorry, sorry). But really: Trade in a long soak for something shorter. Our Test Kitchen Manager Josh Cohen suggests stopping your boil a couple minutes earlier than what the box says—and while it may seem like common knowledge, keeping a little mental reminder to fish out a tester around 6 minutes is helpful.

3. Make a better sauce: Save your pasta water and add stock.

Photo by James Ransom

It's best to do as Mario Batali does here: Finish your pasta in a sauté pan with a few ladles of pasta water to bind everything together. It gives the finished pasta some body, some cling, so the rest of the sauce's ingredients can grip the pasta. We'd go one step further and add a little stock—vegetarian or otherwise—to lend some extra savoriness.

Try out all three tips on this creamy pasta with Brussels sprouts, and then remember to tuck them away for the next time you're puttering around the kitchen on a weeknight.

We've partnered with Progresso Cooking Stock to share recipes that will get you through the holidays. Learn more about the ingredients that go into their stocks here.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kathryn Mueller
    Kathryn Mueller
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    Keirsten Mend
I love oysters and unfussy sandwiches.


Kathryn M. November 25, 2015
What about GlutenFree pasta ? it always comes out "gummy"
Keirsten M. November 29, 2015
I find rinsing gluten free pastas with cold water for a minute or two after straining them does the trick. It seems to set them and stops the gumminess from setting in. Then add warmed up sauce (and toppings) of your choosing and enjoy!