How to Cook Pasta

Even before I knew how to cook, I knew how to cook pasta. Pasta is still my fall-back plan. (It’s five o’clock! I haven’t planned anything for supper! Let’s have pasta!) Fortunately, my whole family likes it.


Here’s how to cook pasta.

  • Measure out your pasta.

    How much you’ll need will depend on your appetite and what else you’re having to eat.

    As a general guide, you’ll want about 4 oz/125 g of dry pasta per person.

    To measure spaghetti, hold it bunched in your fist. Four ounces/125 grams is about the diameter of an American or Canadian quarter.

  • Fill a large pot with water.

    Make sure the pot is large enough!! You’ll need at least one quart/1 L of water per 4 oz/125 g serving.

    Use a pasta pot if you have one, or any large pot if you don't.

    What is a pasta pot, you ask? There are a couple of types.

    • A pasta pot with a locking lid

      The lid has holes in it. It stays secure while you tilt the pot and pour off the water through the holes.

    • A pasta pot with a strainer basket insert

      When the pasta is cooked, just lift out the basket. The hot water stays in the pot. You can leave it there until it cools enough to be safely poured away.

  • Add salt (about 1 Tbsp/15 mL per quart/litre of water).

    You may have heard that you should add oil to the water too. Don’t! You’ll end up with oily pasta, and the sauce will slide right off of it. There’s no good reason to add oil.

  • Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.

  • Add the pasta.

    Stir it well and ensure that all the pieces are floating separately from one another.

  • Turn down the heat just enough to maintain a gentle boil. Keep an eye on the pot to ensure that it doesn't boil over.

  • Wait.

    Check the pasta package for the suggested cooking time. While the pasta cooks, prepare your pasta sauce.

  • Test the pasta for doneness.

    A minute or two before the lowest suggested cooking time, fish out a piece of pasta and test it. Here's how:

    • Bite it. If you are a purist, you’ll want the pasta to be “al dente”: cooked through, but firm and chewy.

    • Break open a piece and look at the inside. If you see a white dot in the center, the pasta isn’t done. When it is uniformly yellow all the way through, it's done.

      However, it’s your pasta! If you prefer it softer, cook for a minute or two or more longer.

    (You may have heard of the “fling it against the wall" method, which involves taking one piece of cooked pasta and tossing it against the wall or the fridge. If it sticks, so they say, it's ready. If it falls to the floor, it’s not. While this is fun to do - my kids love it! - it’s not actually a reliable method.)

  • Drain the pasta.

    If you have a pasta pot, this will be easy.

    If you don't, I highly recommend using a good pasta strainer. Mine fits in the sink, allowing me to use both hands to hold the pot and pour off the water safely.

  • Immediately add the pasta to the hot sauce. Stir, cover, and let sit for a few minutes.

That's it! You know how to cook pasta! Serve and enjoy!

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