Growing up Italian, learning how to cook pasta was one of the first kitchen skills my mother taught me. It’s the quintessential Italian main course that every Italian can whip up in a jiffy to have a healthy and delicious meal ready in under 20 minutes. Cooking pasta sounds easy enough, but mastering how to make pasta like an Italian requires a little practice.
All services & products are personally selected by us to help you plan your best trip to Italy. When you buy something through our links we may receive commission at no additional cost to you.
How NOT to cook pasta like an Italian
Before dropping your noodles into a pot, here’s a couple tips, from Pugliese mother, that will help you achieve pasta perfection every time.
These are the top 5 mistakes people make when cooking pasta and what you should do instead:
1. Putting your pasta in water that is not boiling.
Make sure the pasta water has been brought to a full boil before putting your pasta in. If you’re running late, you might be tempted to put the pasta in early, but you’ll regret it and end up with gummy pasta.
2. Using a pot that is too small with not enough water
Make sure you use a pot large enough to be filled with water that will cover your pasta. A general rule is one litre per 100 grams of pasta.
Pro-tip: When cooking spaghetti or other longer noodles be sure to push the noodles down so that they cook evenly.
3. Not putting salt in the water beforehand.
Always salt the water before putting the pasta in.
4. Overcooking your pasta.
Italians prefer to slightly undercook their pasta – they call it “Al dente”.
5. Not choosing the right pasta for the dish that you’re making.
Italians know the sauce dictates the type of pasta you use. For example if you’re making an amatriciana, you want to use a long noodle pasta that allows you to pick up the sauce in every bite.
3 Must-have items needed to cook pasta like an Italian
Here is a list of tools and ingredients that will make your pasta meal perfection
1. Good Pasta! This is the easiest step. There are plenty of good boxed pasta types out there that make it easy for you to cook pasta at home like an Italian.
2. Passata made with 100% Italian grown tomatoes. Try to make your own sauce whenever possible. You can easily put together a homemade sauce in just seconds by chopping up some garlic, sautéeding it in olive oil and adding it to some Passata. Pro-tip: if using a premade sauce always remember to heat it up first. Never put cold sauce on your pasta.
3. Buy a pot that you can fill with at least one gallon of water, or about 4 liters. Generally for every 100 grams (3 ounces) of pasta you will need four quarts of water. If pasta is your main dish, calculate roughly a pound of pasta for 4 people, or approximately one bag. Don’t worry about leftovers. When you’ve mastered how to cook pasta like an Italian, your guests will be happy to go for seconds!
Don’t have a good size pasta pot? Cuisinart makes a great one that is complete with a strainer.
10 Easy steps for how to make pasta like an Italian
- Bring water to a full boil.
- Add salt as the water starts to boil. Do not add it before as it will not mix as well when the water temperature is too cold.
- Weigh out the pasta.
- Throw your pasta in the boiling, salted water.
- Cook your pasta for the amount of time suggested on the box. Generally, in Italy, pasta takes between 9 and 12 minutes to cook. The cooking time depends on the thickness and type of pasta you choose. Spaghetti is usually done just right after ten minutes of cooking. Egg pasta, like Fettuccine di Campofilone, takes about 4-5 minutes and is a great choice to have around the house if you’re in a hurry. Can’t find a suggested cooking time on your box of pasta? Cook it for 8-9 minutes, give it a try to see if it needs a little longer.
- While the pasta is cooking, stir it every few minutes to ensure it doesn’t stick to the pot.
- Give it a test try to make sure it has been salted properly
- Drain your pasta completely and save a few spoonfuls of cooking water for step 9
- Do it like an italian. Put the pasta back in another pot, add a few spoons of cooking water (which you saved from step 8) and mix in with your sauce for a minute on high heat.
- Grab a sprinkling of parmigiano, a nice glass of wine, and sit down to enjoy a little taste of Italy at home!
So there you have it! As you can see you do not need to be a Michelin starred chef to know how to cook pasta like a pro. All it takes is a few ingredients and following the simple steps above. Within a few tries you will be just like an Italian Nonna and everyone will be dreaming of an invitation to lunch at casa tua (your house).