How to cook pasta

Learn how to cook pasta 'al dente' using our cookery team's top tips and try our moreish pasta recipes with toppings and sauces that'll liven up dinner time.

Spaghetti carbonara with fork

Cooking pasta is really simple, but like a lot of simple cooking, timing is crucial. Most dried pasta cooks in about 10 mins – a few minutes less and it will be chalky and tough, a few minutes more and you’ll end up with a slimy mush. The trick is to test it and stop cooking when it’s perfectly ‘al dente’ – which translates from Italian as ‘to the tooth’ but simply means you should need to use your teeth to chew it.

    How much water do I need to cook pasta? 

    • 80-100g dried pasta per person
    • 500ml - 1litre water per 100g

    How do I season pasta?

    • 1 tsp salt, or more if you prefer, in the cooking water
    • Sauce, oil or butter of your choice over the cooked, drained pasta
    • Finely grated hard cheese, such as parmesan or pecorino, to finish

    Basic pasta recipe:

    Boil the water (with salt and/or olive oil) in a large pan. Once boiling add the pasta and cook for 8-12 mins, depending on the shape – see above. Drain and leave to steam dry for a few mins, just until the surface of the pasta looks matte. Then add pasta sauce, pesto or simply a good drizzle of olive oil and seasoning. Mix really well to coat and allow some of the sauce or dressing to be absorbed into the pasta. Season with salt, pepper and a finely grated hard cheese like parmesan.
     

    How do you cook 'al dente' pasta? 

    1. The first step is to make sure you have plenty of water in your pan. Use a large, high sided saucepan and add at least 500ml, or up to 1 litre of water per 100g dried pasta (depending on the capacity of your pan). Make sure there’s still enough room at the top because you don’t want the water to bubble up and overflow.
    2. Bring the pan of water to the boil then add your pasta. If you like, or the recipe suggests, salt the water first, or if you prefer, add a splash of olive oil.
    3. After about 8 mins of boiling carefully fish a piece or strand of pasta out of the pan, allow it to cool and taste it. If it’s ready take the pasta off the heat straight away, if not give it another minute then test again.
    4. Most dried ribbons of pasta such as linguine, spaghetti and tagliatelle take between 8-10 mins. Shorter, thicker pasta shapes like bows or penne take 10-12mins and fresh pasta such as ravioli and tortellini will be done between 3-5mins.
    5. Once the pasta is cooked you need to take it out of the water and allow it to steam dry for a minute or two before mixing it with any sauce or dressing. If the sauce you want to use is too thick, reserve a little of the pasta water to thin it down with.
    6. Lasagne sheets or cannelloni tubes are made to be baked instead of boiled so make sure that the sauce you are layering or stuffing them with isn’t too dry as they will need to absorb some liquid as they bake.

    Pasta recipes

    Cacio e pepe with runner beans

    Cacio e pepe with runner beans
    A simple, classic and tasty way to serve pasta dressed in (lots of) butter, cheese and black pepper, allowing the pasta to take centre stage. This basic recipe is a must-try, great for a no-fuss meal for two. 

    Homemade pesto ideas

    Kale pesto and spaghetti
    Once you’ve perfected your pasta try swirling through a dollop of good homemade pesto. Start with the classic basil then go wild with our five new twists on this old favourite. Add different nuts and herbs to jazz up the traditional recipe and suit your taste. 

    Vincisgrassi (wild mushroom & prosciutto lasagne)

    Wild mushroom lasagne
    The most luxurious pasta bake we know for the most special of occasions. This recipe uses premium porcini and Portobello mushrooms in a silky, creamy sauce (maybe with a drizzle of truffle oil) to create the ultimate comfort food. 

    Garlicky mushroom penne

    Vegan mushroom penne in bowl
    Pasta doesn’t always have to be heavy on the cheese to be satisfying and delicious. Try this punchy vegan recipe with dried wholemeal penne, fresh mushrooms and a drizzle of tahini.

    Avocado & smoked salmon spelt spaghetti

    Avocado & smoked salmon spaghetti in bowl
    Ring the changes with nutty spelt pasta. It cooks in the same way as regular wheat pasta but it packs a stronger flavour and extra fibre. This wholesome recipe is great for getting a dose of omega-3, too, and you can throw it together in just 15 minutes.
     

    Get more recipe inspiration...

    Easiest ever one-pan pasta
    How to make simple seafood pasta
    Our ultimate pasta collection

    What's your favourite way to serve pasta? Leave a comment below...

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