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10 Mistakes You’re Making When Cooking Pasta

The perfect pasta is finally within reach.

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Home cooking pasta in a saucepan with water and cooking ingredients with a cutting board on the background of a wooden table,Anton Chernov/Shutterstock

Adding too much (or too little) pasta

If you’re anything like me, you tend to overestimate how much pasta you actually need. Instead of dumping in the whole box (and inevitably dumping the leftovers in the trash because you can’t eat another bite), take the time to measure proper portions. For small shapes, you’ll want about one heaping cup of dry pasta per person. For long noodles, use this nifty pasta measuring tool ($6). You can also use a kitchen scale to weigh out servings (about two ounces), or try one of these pasta-measuring hacks.

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The chef preparations spaghetti and pasta, salt water, against a dark background, the concept of cookingVasiliyBudarin/Shutterstock

Skimping on salt

For flavorful pasta, you need to salt the cooking water—and a measly sprinkle isn’t going to cut it. Grab your measuring spoons and add about 1-1/2 Tablespoons of salt for every pound of pasta. You can learn even more about this important technique here.

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Cooking PastaBildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

Using a pot that’s too small

Pasta cooks best when it has enough space to expand. Don’t force your favorite noodles into a tiny pot with barely enough water. We recommend three or four quarts per pound of pasta—and a pot that can hold it all without boiling over. This stockpot ($68) can handle making pasta for a crowd.

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Cooking spaghetti in a pot with boiling water;dibettadifino/Shutterstock

Breaking long noodles

Mamma mia! Breaking long pasta, like spaghetti or linguine, is practically a cardinal sin. Instead, place one end of the pasta in boiling water and use a spoon to gently submerge the noodles as they soften. You also want to make sure you have—you guessed it—a big enough pot. Use your new skill to whip up one of these lovely linguine recipes.

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olive oil pouring over tortellini with cheese and tomatoesOlga Miltsova/Shutterstock

Adding olive oil to the water

A drizzle of high-quality olive oil is a great way to elevate your finished pasta dish. But you should never add it to the cooking water. If you do, your sauce will slide right off the noodles. Psst! Here’s what you should look for when buying olive oil.

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Frying pan with delicious chicken AlfredoAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Picking the wrong pasta shape for your sauce

Sure, you know Fettuccine pairs well with thick, decadent sauces (hello, Alfredo!). But what about other pastas? Make sure you’re pairing a complementary sauce to your noodles’ shape. If you’re struggling to find the perfect combo, check out our ultimate guide to pasta shapes.  

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spaghetti in colanderOlga Miltsova/Shutterstock

Under (or over) cooking the pasta

We’re not sure which is worse: chewy, tough pasta with a hard center or mushy, soft pasta that’s completely overcooked. Find that intermediate sweet spot by learning to cook your pasta al dente. The key here is to keep an eye on the pasta as it boils and check it frequently. The suggested time stamped on the back of the box may not always be accurate. Practice your skills with our best pasta recipes.

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A wooden spoon is stirring some pasta in a pan which is filled with hot wateRalf Maassen (DTEurope)/Shutterstock

Forgetting to stir

Unless you like clumps of pasta that stick together, make sure you give your pasta a good stir once it hits the water. The last thing you want to do is drop your noodles and then walk away for 10 minutes. You can, however, walk away from these slow cooker recipes.

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pan of boiling water on the cooker in the kitchen;Nitr/Shutterstock

Adding pasta to non-boiling water

Yes, we know pasta is delicious. And yes, we know it can be hard to wait—especially when you’re hungry. But adding noodles to non-boiling water will cause them to get mushy. (And honestly, it will take longer for your pasta to cook than if you’d just been patient in the first place). Here’s the real difference between boiling and simmering.

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Penne pasta drainingBorisVian/Shutterstock

Not tasting as you go

Chefs are tasting their creations all the time. And for good reason! Before you commit to draining an entire batch of pasta, you’ll want to sample a noodle or two to make sure it’s cooked to your liking. Avoid the hassle of fishing out a single strand of pasta with this pasta tasting spoon ($20) that keeps noodles from sliding off the spoon.

Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.

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