For Tastier Pasta Dishes, Don't Let Those Noodles Sit For Too Long

Name a more universally beloved, comforting, delicious food than a good melty lasagna, spaghetti, or gooey mac and cheese – it's impossible. Transcending cultures, geography, and palates, pasta is the ultimate meal to tuck into when you want something nourishing and comforting in a way that feels like home. But as any pasta lover knows, as classic as a box of mac and cheese may be, there's a wide range between that and the high-end pasta dishes you'll find at a restaurant. If you want to step up your pasta-making skills to replicate this level of goodness at home, it might not be about adding a step, but taking one away. If you're draining your noodles and letting them sit while your sauce cooks, the minutes spent sitting in a colander cause noodles to lose vital tenderness and moisture.

Though it takes some extra forethought, attempt to time your cooking so your pasta finishes right as it's time to add it to the sauce, to minimize the chance for it to become chewy or tough. Less is more when it comes to cook time. To maximize the texture and flavor of your meal, stop boiling your noodles before they're completely finished and let them have their final few minutes of cook time in the sauce itself. This not only allows the flavors to marry together, but helps the sauce and pasta combine and become better incorporated for a cohesive dish with saucey goodness coating every bite.

Don't drain away that precious pasta water

The steps to cooking the perfect pot of fettuccine, spaghetti, or penne don't end when you take it off the heat. What follows is crucial for the mouthfeel and taste of the final dish. Once you turn off the burner, resist draining away that starchy pasta water. Draining and rinsing your noodles rids them of needed starchiness that helps the sauce adhere, in addition to giving the noodles time to dry out. 

You'll want to set aside a cup or two of the starchy pasta water after removing the noodles, which works magic in a way water from the faucet never could. Spooning a bit into the sauce adds additional body from the starch, imparting a velvety, creaminess and additional flavor. Despite all the best intentions, if you do wind up with your pasta finishing ahead of schedule, you can always bring cooked pasta back to life by dropping it in boiling water for a quick minute or two, which will restore the moisture and tenderness.

With just a bit of extra planning and timing, the ease of a quick weeknight pasta can still be easy — which after all, is one of the things we all love most about pasta. But by adding your noodles directly to the sauce or at least not letting them sit for long, you'll elevate your home pasta nights to the level of greatness you'd get from your favorite local Italian restaurant.