How to Cook Pasta
Filling, hearty and budget friendly. There’s so many reasons why pasta is a go-to choice for many of us looking for a speedy dinner that’s quick and easy. Perfect pasta can be tricky, and nobody likes serving up a hard or soggy mess! We’re sharing the best ways to cook pasta for the perfect flavour and texture.
There are hundreds of shapes of pasta available from supermarkets and specialist stores, from spaghetti to macaroni and everything in between. Whatever your pasta and sauce of choice is, we’ve got you covered.
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Basic tips and tricks
- To avoid food waste, the recommended portion size is 75g of pasta per person. Pasta will expand and take on water during cooking, so it may look like a small amount at first. For each 75g portion use at least 500ml water, so the pasta is well covered. For more tips on reducing food waste, take a look at our top tips on how to reduce food waste.
- Don’t add anything other than salt – there’s a misconception that adding oil prevents the pasta from sticking, but a good stir or two during cooking will prevent this. You don’t want the pasta to be too slick so the sauce won’t stick. This is especially important for dishes like Spaghetti Carbonara.
- Always follow the guidelines on the packet. Different shapes will take different times to cook. If the packet gives you a range such as 8-12 minutes, go for the lower end. Like any cooking, you can always cook pasta for longer but you can’t uncook a sloppy mess!
- Aim for ‘al dente’ which means ‘to the tooth’. Pasta that’s cooked until just before it’s fully soft will retain more flavour and texture when eaten.
- Don’t rinse pasta after cooking, the starch in the water helps to bind the sauce.
How to cook pasta on the stove
These instructions will vary for fresh pasta, which cooks much faster than dried, usually in 3-5 minutes. You’ll need a large, good quality saucepan and a colander for draining, and that’s it!
We have lots of easy peasy pasta recipes to get you started, like our Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta: 🍝
- Use a saucepan large enough to allow the pasta to move freely and that can hold plenty of water. Bring it to a boil.
- Add a good pinch of salt. Don’t skip this step! It’s very important as it adds flavour to the pasta.
- Once the water is boiling (never before!), add the pasta and keep the water on a rolling boil. Remove the lid to stop it overboiling.
- Cook for the lower end of the packet instructions, and fish a piece of pasta out to taste. Be careful, it will be very hot!
- Once it’s cooked to your liking, drain the pasta but reserve a cup or two of the cooking water. It’s handy if you need to thin a sauce to help it coat the pasta!
- Add the pasta into the sauce, not the sauce into the pasta – this keeps the pasta hot and you get all the flavours mixing together nicely.
For a light, quick dinner, it doesn’t get much simpler than our Lemon Chicken and Spinach Pasta with just a handful of ingredients:
How to cook pasta in an Instant Pot® and pressure cooker
You’re not just limited to the stove top when cooking pasta – we’ve even cooked it in the Instant Pot®! There are a few more things to consider because Instant Pot®s and pressure cookers cook food at high temperatures and very quickly, so it’s very easy to overcook using this method.
If you haven’t already got an Instant Pot®, they are one of our essential kitchen gadgets and make light work of so many dishes including soups, stews and casseroles!
There’s a really simple formula to follow when cooking pasta in an Instant Pot, but it can take a little bit of trial and error at first to find what works best for your preferred brand and your pressure cooker.
- Check the back of the packet for the recommended cooking time.
- Take the lowest number, and divide by 2. If it’s an odd number, remove a minute so it’s an even number.
- Cook on high pressure and use the quick steam release once it’s done.
(For example if the packet says cook for 9-11 minutes, you would round 9 down to 8 and then divide by 2 to get 4 minutes. This is your cooking time.)
This works well with shorter pasta shaped like penne and farfalle, as longer noodle shapes like spaghetti and linguine tend to clump together.
It’s also possible to add the pasta at the end of cooking, like in our Beef Ragu in our first cookbook.
The method here is to add the pasta at the end once the sauce is fully cooked. There’s no need to add extra water as it will cook in the sauce. Stir well and bring to pressure, then use the natural pressure release straight away. As soon as the pressure is released, the pasta should be perfectly cooked!
Experiment with adding your pasta at the end, or take a look at some of our Instant Pot friendly sauce recipes like our indulgent Beef Paprikash.
An Instant Pot can even be used for speeding up slow cooker recipes or those you’d normally bake in the oven. Have you seen our handy conversion guide?
How to cook pasta in a slow cooker
Slow cookers are all about convenience and there’s something satisfying about popping all of your ingredients in the pot and letting it do the hard work while you get on with your day! Did you know that you can also cook pasta in the slow cooker?
It’s usually best to cook the pasta already in a sauce in the slow cooker, so if you’re making up a batch of sauce like our Chicken Cacciatore, pop the pasta in for the last hour of cooking and it should be deliciously tender by the time you serve.
As always, this method can vary depending on the shape and brand of pasta you use, so use trial and error to find what works for you. If it’s the first time making a dish, you may want to use the tried and tested stove top method above until you’re more comfortable!
The only thing left to do is find your favourite sides and tuck in! Cheesy Garlic Bread, anyone?
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