How-To & Diy

3 Ways to Cook Pasta

September  4, 2012

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're sharing three ways to cook pasta. 

Boiling Pasta

Grit your teeth, clench your jaw: do anything to keep from rolling your eyes. 'Do you think we're idiots?' you may be thinking. 'Of course I know how to boil pasta!'

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Well, we've got 3 ways -- and they all work.

Whether you're a novice cook or as seasoned as a pot of pasta water, you've most likely cooked yourself a bowl of some kind of noodle. It was probably easy; it was probably good. But we've got tips on how to make it better -- and quicker, and even more energy-efficient.

Your eyes aren't rolling now, are they?

Read on for the classic way of boiling pasta -- then two more (crazy! blasphemous!) ways to play around with. Pasta can be new, exciting; there's no reason cooking it can't be the same. 

Method #1: The Classic

Salting Water

Here's the way your nonna taught you, or your father, or the way you simply figured out by yourself -- with a few handy tips for good measure.

Take a big pot and fill it with 4-5 quarts of water. Salt it heartily, with enough to make it taste of the sea. This will season your pasta -- and is the only chance in your cooking process to do so. Once the water reaches a boil, toss your dried pasta in, and stir! Stir! Stir! The rigorous stirring in the beginning of the boiling process will keep the pasta from sticking to itself; the first few minutes of cooking are when the starches are released from the pasta, making the surface particularly sticky.

Once your pasta has the texture of a fresh stick of gum -- al dente -- take it out of the water, reserving some of the cooking liquid to add to your sauce (the starchiness will give your sauce extra body). If your sauce is getting cooked on the stove, add the pasta to the same pan, tossing it together before putting it in a serving bowl. This will allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce -- and for the sauce to lap up any starch molecules still hanging onto the pasta.

Method #2: The Simmer

Simmer pasta

In 2009, Harold McGee wrote an article in The New York Times explaining that pasta can be cooked in a small amount of water -- around 1.5 quarts -- that starts out cold. Just salt the water as usual, put the pasta in the pot, and bring to a boil; the pasta will take around 10 minutes to cook through once the water reaches a boil.

Our friend Kenji Lopez-Alt over at The Food Lab took this one step further -- he proved that pasta can be cooked at a mere simmer (gasp!). What's more, a smaller volume of water yields a starchier pasta water at the end of cooking, which means it serves as an extra-effective binder.

Method #3: The Soak (a.k.a 60 Second Pasta)

The Soak

The geniuses over at Ideas in Food, H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, figured out a way to cook pasta in 60 seconds.

Yes, 60 seconds.

First, put your dried pasta in a plastic bag or in a dish, cover it with cold water, and let it hang out for an hour and a half. Then, put a pot of salted, boiling water on the stove, toss in the soaked pasta, and wait 60 seconds.

Done! Al dente! And dinner is served.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kent Van Heerden
    Kent Van Heerden
  • julianne
  • Eva
  • Lan Pham 1
    Lan Pham 1
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Kent V. December 4, 2014
You should try my faster method, it cooks quicker, uses less energy and is much more consistent.
didn't A. October 22, 2019
Okay Kent shut up, no one asked.
julianne June 15, 2014
wow, I was devastated when marie callender's (conagrafoods) discontinued their 4 minute meal bags but now it's looking a bit brighter, would everybody please help me flood the conagra website with complaints about the discontinuation, I am sure I am not the only disabled one who depended on this quick and delicious meal.
Eva February 14, 2014
Ever since hearing Harold McGee's description of his cooking method on NPR, I've been a convert. My mom, too. We never cook pasta in giant vats of boiling water anymore. The cold-start/skillet method uses less water, cooks the pasta more slowly (so you have greater control over the resulting texture), and creates a more concentrated "pasta water", as the article states.

Plus no one seems convinced it'll work the first time you show them. Great "party trick".
SBMCW May 3, 2013
That absolutely works. Harold McGee, who wrote "Of Food and Cooking", is in the video. His book has attained cult status in the culinary industry. Very interesting book and a deep dive into the Mister Wizard world of cooking.
Lan P. May 2, 2013
I've recently seen another way of cooking pasta over at CHOW channel here - Pasta straight from frying pan, what you think of this?
SBMCW November 30, 2012
Method #3 might be best in a small New York kitchen in the summer with no air conditioning. You can also use the boiling water to make the pasta just pliable and put the pasta into a very loose sauce and finish cooking on the stove. I also use tongs to remove the pasta to ensure I have pasta water to adjust the sauce. If you have friends that are always late using tongs allows you to cook pasta for the punctual guests and save the water at a simmer to cook pasta for the late comers quickly.
Cinnamin September 13, 2012
Wow- the 60 second method is pretty cool! I am a classic girl so far, should try these alternatives out
Lost_in_NYC September 5, 2012
Whats the purpose of method #3? 1.5 hrs (method #3) vs 8-9 minutes the traditional way. I think its a no-brainer. The 60 seconds doesn't really have an appeal honestly.
Kristy M. September 5, 2012
I think the 60-second method is fun and exciting! Sometimes you just want to have fun in the kitchen.
Genius R. September 5, 2012
In their book, Alex and Aki explain that having pasta ready within moments can be useful in larger scale cooking operations for a la minute cooking, but also for busy families who can keep a container of soaked pasta on hand all through the week for super quick meals. (Speaking of fun in the kitchen, they also play with the soaking water to infuse flavors into the noodles, notably with barbecue sauce.)
Kristen M. September 5, 2012
Whoops -- that last comment was actually from me!
walkie74 September 6, 2012
So you don't have to soak it for exactly an hour and a half? You could start it, say, that morning before you go to work. and then cook it that night? And could you soak it, drain it and store it? Wow, if you can do both, I would *totally* try this...
walkie74 September 6, 2012
So you don't have to soak it for exactly an hour and a half? You could start it, say, that morning before you go to work. and then cook it that night? And could you soak it, drain it and store it? Wow, if you can do both, I would *totally* try this...
Hurri C. September 4, 2012
For any type of pasta other than spaghetti/fettuccine/etc., I usually use my pressure cooker. First, lightly toast the pasta in the pressure cooker over high heat with just a little bit of oil, then pour in water (or a 50/50 chicken stock/water mix) until it's just touching the top of the pasta, add some salt (unless chicken stock was very salty), and then put the lid on. Once it comes up to pressure, lower the heat (as you normally do when using a pressure cooker!) and cook for 40% of the recommended cook time for that pasta, then release the pressure. At this point you could strain it and add to a saucepan with some sauce, but depending on the shape of the pasta there may not be much water left; sometimes I just put the heat back on and grate in pecorino until the water is all absorbed/evaporated.
Panfusine September 4, 2012
Apart from the first method.. to which the times are listed on the packaging... how does one adjust for times for the various shapes?
MamaAl September 4, 2012
Trial and error. Spaggeti noodles whole, and elbow mac take about 10 minutes. mini bowties take about 6 minutes.
MamaAl September 4, 2012
Why do people boil pasta? Family secret: Bring water to boil then put in 1 tsp to 1 tbls of salt. Add pasta of chioce and stir until water starts to boil, turn to low and put on lid. Let sit for 5 to 10 min. , or until pasta is aldente. Size and thickness of pasta dictates how long pasta will sit.
fiveandspice September 4, 2012
Simmering pasta?! I've got to try that. Method #5: Cook the pasta totally risotto style, adding it to sauteed onions, throwing in a splash of wine, then adding a couple ladlefuls of broth at a time and stirring until each addition is evaporated and continuing until the pasta reaches the texture you want.
Brette W. September 4, 2012
Kristy M. September 5, 2012
I second Brette's "Whoa." Wow!
Panfusine September 5, 2012
The risotto style is the preferred method for making 'semiya upma' a traditional South Indian breakfast.. (I have no clue when & how the capellini pasta got into the traditional South Indian Pantry, but it even got its own name 'Semiya')
the pasta is toasted golden and then added into a seasoned broth and cooked down
Kristy M. September 5, 2012
Cool! Will have to try this!
LucyS September 5, 2012
I tried this once! I used white wine and chicken stock. The result was SUPER rich and it took ages - but delicious.
Eva February 14, 2014
Yes, this is often the best way to make the dish 'pasta in brodo' (pasta in broth). You can do it with water, but it's even better with stock/broth. Method #4 (just below) is another way, but I think the "risotto method" creates a nicer result because it seems to draw out more of the pasta starch over the longer cooking time and create a more luxurious "sauce". A bit of grated parmiggiano over the top is fab.
chairmanhu September 4, 2012
Method #4: Cook the pasta in a large saucepan with chicken stock, covered. When halfway done, uncover and stir while the stock reduces and evaporates. Melt in some butter, garlic, parsley and a squeeze of lemon. All sorts of leftovers work with this for a quick midweek dinner.

It's tricky to get just right to al dente, but it's a great way to plan a one pot meal, especially if you first cook up some vegetables and or meats beforehand in the same pot. Scrape up the brown bits with the stock :)