If you have been cooking pasta by adding the sauce on top of the cold and drained pasta, then you are doing it wrong!
Cooking pasta in sauce, what’s the best way? Pasta and sauce go hand in hand. You can’t just cook the pasta and leave it to drain, cool down, and become sticky and then add the sauce later on. The best way to get the most out of the flavor of any pasta dish is to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.
Read below to learn more about the common mistakes many make when cooking pasta, how to avoid them, and the best way to cook pasta in any sauce!
The Dos And Don’ts Of Pasta
Pasta isn’t a complicated dish, but the way some people make it; it becomes a nightmare to get it right.
The reason why so many struggle with making pasta may lie in the preparation.
Pasta is a naturally starchy dish that requires just the right amount of starch for the appropriate mouthfeel and the right kind of sauce and consistency to bring everything together.
Perhaps these problems stem from our belief of thinking of pasta and sauce as two discrete ingredients of one whole dish instead of thinking of all the ingredients as one harmonious recipe.
If you have been cooking pasta and sauce separately then you may have been doing it wrong all your life! Why? Let’s discuss the three most common mistakes people make with pasta dishes:
Mistake #1: The Pasta Is Usually Overcooked
Cooking pasta requires some prior practice and know-how. While it is easy for anyone to boil pasta, there is a difference between cooking pasta until al dente and just boiling it in water.
Every type of pasta is different. Luckily, there are always instructions for how to cook pasta on the back of every packaging. All one needs to do is glance at the back of the packet to see how their specific pasta is required to be cooked.
Some require a cooking time of around 8 minutes while others can take over 10-12 minutes.
However, one thing is constant: pasta requires an appropriately salted pot with boiling water to cook!
This means that the pot needs to be adequately sized so that the pasta has enough room to hydrate and cook without bumping into each other. The more evenly spaced the pasta is, the better it will cook!
Mistake #2: Not Keeping Some Of The Pasta Water
If you think that the starchy pasta water serves no purpose other than being a waste product then you would be very wrong!
The starch-laden water is the life and blood of the pasta, and while you may not need a lot of it, keeping some of it can come in handy in greatly increasing the texture and mouthfeel of the pasta.
Familiar with the velvety and smooth texture that you get with the first bite of a perfectly cooked pasta dish? You can thank starch for that!
Starchy water can be used in several clever ways. For example, some people tend to put back some of the water in the pasta to rehydrate or save their pasta dish from over-drying.
Others may want to use the starchy water for adding back some of the lost texture in the pasta and to slightly uplift the flavor of the dish by a small degree. Trust us, the difference can be very noticeable!
So, the next time you cook pasta at home, make sure you keep just a cup or two of it on the side before discarding the rest!
Mistake #3: Rinsing The Pasta And Cooking The Sauce Later
Rinsing the pasta after it has been done cooking is a big no!
The reason for this is simple: not only does rinsing affect the delicate texture of the pasta, but it also rinses off the extra starch from it.
We have already discussed why starch is integral to a pasta dish, so it is important that you don’t wash it away after boiling it!
Another mistake people make immediately after rinsing the pasta is that they leave the cooked pasta over the countertop to dry while they go prepare the sauce.
There is no need for the pasta to dry out or drain any further. Once the pasta is cooked, it is ready to be used in any recipe without the additional waiting time.
Adding extra time to this step results in a drained, dried, and cold pasta that is likely going to clump up or stick together.
We recommend that you always cook the sauce first before preparing the pasta.
The sauce is likely to require more time and demand more attention than just a boiling pot of pasta that only occasionally needs to be checked after a set amount of time.
So, make the sauce beforehand and then allow it to rest while you prepare the pasta. This is the only way to get a perfectly cooked pasta dish!
Once the sauce starts to cool down, the ingredients will begin to meld further as they recombine. In other words, the sauce will settle down and its flavor will become more pronounced as the added moisture is evaporated.
After the pasta is ready, simply mix it in with the sauce! But we’re not done yet. Similar to how people make mistakes when cooking pasta, there are a few mistakes that equally many make when cooking the sauce too.
The Dos And Don’ts Of Pasta Sauce
If you were to ask anyone about the best type of pasta sauce then we are confident that you would get a long and diverse list of sauces, and this is exactly why pasta is so famous: there is something for everyone!
Pasta sauces are extremely varied and can be made in several ways. However, they must also have a few basic characteristics to be deemed pasta worthy.
Here are a few common mistakes and easy fixes for cooking pasta sauce:
Mistake #1: Inconsistent Sauce
No one likes a diluted or overly concentrated pasta sauce.
Many people tend to keep the sauce a bit runny because they believe that the pasta will soak up the extra water. This is both true and false. Let us explain:
As mentioned above, the pasta only becomes porous when you over-dry it after rinsing, draining, and letting it sit over the counter.
When the hot sauce hits the cold pasta, it quickly hydrates and slightly expands it. For most people, this method is enough but if you are going for authenticity then you have to do better!
Remember how we said that pasta and sauce should be ONE whole dish instead of being discrete ingredients? Well, this is where the harmony between pasta and sauce will become clear!
See, if you avoid the mistakes mentioned above you won’t have to dilute the sauce and put in any guesswork in making a pasta dish.
A great tip for this is to reuse the starchy water to rehydrate the sauce and pasta as needed.
For example, you can cook the sauce with just the right consistency and then add the pasta while adjusting the recipe using the starch water.
Don’t worry if you end up reducing the sauce! Remember, you have the starch water as your secret weapon so you can easily rehydrate the pasta and bring the sauce back to its original consistency!
We’ll discuss the detailed steps on how to cook pasta in sauce below. But first, let’s address all the pasta sauce mistakes!
Mistake #2: Too Much Protein
We get it, everyone loves the alternating textures and flavors that meat provides in the sauce. However, contrary to popular belief, there is surely such a thing as “too much meat” in pasta sauce.
The ratio of meat and sauce should be 1:2 where for every one part of tightly packed meat you should add at least twice the sauce.
Of course, you can play around with the ratio as per your preferences but the basic idea is to keep the sauce, well, saucy rather than meaty.
Even in meatier sauces like Bolognese, you will find that there is a harmony between the consistency of the sauce and the quantity of the meat.
If you add a very meaty sauce to pasta then there is a good chance that you might negatively impact the flavor and texture of the dish!
Similarly, when making a tomato-based sauce, we recommend that you follow the recipe to the tee and use either raw tomatoes or tomato paste as instructed.
Keep in mind that tomato paste is a much denser form of tomatoes where 1 tbsp of tomato paste can equate to 2-3 medium-sized raw tomatoes!
So, when you add too much of it, the sauce may become too acidic and tangy whereas adding too little may greatly affect the flavor of the overall dish.
Mistake #3: Adding The Sauce Over The Pasta
Finally, the biggest mistake, which combined with all the above mistakes, also happens to be the final nail in the coffin: pouring sauce OVER cold and dried pasta.
If there was an official fine for incorrectly making pasta then this step is where you would have to pay! As we have hopefully made clear, the sauce and the pasta have to go hand in hand.
Adding the sauce over the pasta on a plate and then mixing it is not considered to be classy and is probably the biggest mistake that you are making when cooking pasta at home.
This is how you should do it instead:
- Prepare the pasta! Pick and choose any type of pasta you like. Cook the pasta only as indicated at the back of the packaging for the best results.
- Set aside 1 cup of the starchy water and drain the rest by filtering the pasta and water through a fine-mesh sieve.
- Set the flame under the saucepot to medium and add the pasta directly into the pot. Now gently stir and fold in the pasta with the sauce. The idea here is to gently coat the pasta instead of forcing the sauce into it.
- Remember, the pasta is only cooked to al dente so you will have to render it further—and this is where the starchy water will come in!
- Add just a bit of the pasta water to keep the pasta and sauce from drying. Don’t add all of it at once since you don’t know how much water you will require to fully render the pasta.
- Keep stirring the pasta and adding just a bit of the starchy water until the sauce starts to steam. This should only take a few minutes.
- Test the pasta by tasting one piece and checking for doneness. The pasta should be firm but easily chewable. If it is not fully rendered and still al dente then you may cook it for 2-3 more minutes.
- Once you have the right consistency and the pasta has been cooked to perfection, you can turn off the heat.
- Add in the garnish. Yes, we will add the garnish directly into the pot. The idea here is to add just a bit of herb and cheese so that the pasta can fully incorporate it. This step is what the Italians refer to as “mantecare” which means to “cream” or to make “smooth and shiny”.
- Finally, serve the pasta on a plate, and then add just a bit of garnish over the top!
That’s it! This is how you can perfectly cook pasta in sauce all while avoiding the most common mistakes that prevent you from reaching pasta nirvana!
Cooking pasta in the sauce is the best way to get the most out of each ingredient and to incorporate and bring together the full dish without compromise!
Now that you know how to cook pasta in sauce, here are some related questions!
Can I boil pasta in sauce?
In theory, you will be able to cook or boil pasta directly in the sauce but you will have very little control over how the pasta cooks.
For example, the sauce may dry out before the pasta is fully cooked or the pasta may become overly mushy with a lot of the water still remaining in the pot.
Another point to consider here is the added starch. As the pasta boils, it will release a lot of starch. So, all that added starch may greatly (and negatively) affect the pasta recipe!
Can I use pasta water when reheating cold pasta?
Yes, reusing pasta water to heat cold or frozen pasta is a great way to add life back to the dish.
While using plain water is also acceptable, using pasta water will appropriately rehydrate the pasta and add back some of the lost starch that may freshen up the dish just as if it were made the first day!
Can no-boil pasta be cooked directly in sauce?
Yes, the only exception to boiling and cooking pasta directly in the sauce applies to the no-boil pasta variety that is already pre-cooked.
This type of pasta does not require much water and will generally cook quickly in a moist environment.
Please follow the instructions mentioned at the back of the packaging for more information on how to use the no-boil pasta directly in your favorite pasta sauce.
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