How to cook spaghetti
Spaghetti is the pasta of choice for a classic Bolognese or carbonara. Find out how to get the best flavour and texture, and which sauces to serve it with.
The most popular way to cook spaghetti is simple. Put the pasta into plenty of boiling water, stir it, bring it to a simmer, turn the heat off, put a lid on and leave it to finish cooking for 10-12 mins. This method works perfectly fine.
How to cook spaghetti for the best flavour
- Cook pasta in less water than you usually use. Instead of tipping away lots of water after cooking, you’ll end up with a small amount of very starchy water in the pan – this will help thicken any pasta sauce it is added to, and will put the flavour lost in the water back into the sauce (recipes often tell you to reserve some pasta water to do this).
- You will have to stir the pasta every now and then as it cooks. Eminent American food science author Harold McGee writes in his book An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science that you get the best results for spaghetti if you cook it in a frying pan, using cold water to start.
How to stop spaghetti sticking
- Don’t add oil. The first thing to know is that adding oil to the water has no effect, as it floats on the top of the water. The second thing to know is that adding oil to cooked spaghetti will make any sauce slide off it – again, not what you want.
- Stir the pasta after you've added it to the water. Pasta releases starch as soon as it starts to cook. When you put it in boiling water it does this straight away, making the surface of the pasta sticky, which is why you always have to stir the pot to separate the pieces. As the spaghetti continues to cook, the starch dissolves into the water so it doesn’t stick any more.
What kind of spaghetti should I use?
Not all pasta is equal – some is of a far better quality than others. Choose a good-quality pasta made with 100% durum wheat for the best outcome. Higher-quality pasta has a higher protein content, and takes a couple of minutes longer to cook, but you can also overcook it slightly or cook it further in its sauce and it will still have a good texture. It is also easier to cook ‘al dente’.
How to cook spaghetti al dente
Cooking spaghetti until it is al dente (meaning ‘to the tooth’ or ‘to the bite’) means that it will be cooked through but still firm and very slightly chewy. Most packs of spaghetti will give you a cooking time from boiling that will thoroughly cook the pasta – you’ll need to cook it for a minute or two less to have al dente pasta. Fresh pasta can never be al dente.
What kind of sauce goes with spaghetti?
Obviously it’s up to you what kind of sauce you want to serve with spaghetti, but in Italy, lighter, more refined sauces are used as they stick to the skinny pasta strands. Oil-based sauces such as aglio e olio (garlic and oil), creamy cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper) or carbonara, puttanesca, and seafood sauces such as alle vongole (with clams) are usually served with long thin pasta. Ragu (Bolognese) is always served with tagliatelle in Italy – elsewhere everyone eats it with spaghetti. We have a collection of pasta sauce recipes that will surely spark some inspiration for your pasta dinner; there are pesto, tomato, bolognese, cheese and roasted peppers sauces.
Find out more in our guide on how to match pasta shapes to sauces.
Perfectly cooked spaghetti recipe
- 160g spaghetti
Pasta brands cook at different times – you'll need to follow the pack instructions rather than using a generic timing.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil and season it with salt.
- Add the spaghetti and stir it gently until all the strands sink beneath the water level. Stir again to make sure they're not stuck together.
- Cook following the pack instructions but taking 2 mins off the time suggested.
- Check the pasta when the time is up by biting into a strand – it should be cooked through but still firm. Cook for a further 1-2 mins if you need to, or if you prefer your spaghetti softer.
- Drain, reserving a little pasta water to add to the sauce. Add the pasta to the sauce straight away so it doesn’t stick together as it cools.
5 recipes to make with spaghetti
The best spaghetti Bolognese recipe
Italians may prefer their ragu with tagliatelle, but spag bol is our best ever pasta recipe.
Spaghetti and meatballs
Meatballs add heft to a plate of pasta, making it a comforting, family-friendly dish.
Ultimate spaghetti carbonara
This rich Roman dish is often made with guanciale, a kind of cured pork – we've used pancetta for our version.
Cacio e pepe with runner beans
Cacio e pepe literally means cheese and pepper. We've added runner beans to this recipe for extra freshness.
Spaghetti alle vongole
Spaghetti with clams is another classic combination – this recipe also works with mussels or even prawns.
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Have you got any tips for perfect spaghetti? Leave a comment below...