Cooking Questions: Pasta Article -
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Cooking Questions: Pasta

Browse our frequently asked cooking questions for advice on preparing pasta.

Can lasagna be put together one day, and cooked the next?

Lasagna is a perfect make-ahead meal. You can certainly make it one day, and bake it the next. Store the lasagna in an airtight container or wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. It also stands up to freezing quite well, so you can make it, freeze it, and bake it at your convenience.

I have a recipe for Alfredo sauce, and though I followed it exactly, the cheeses never melted in the sauce. It was all lumpy and clumpy. What happened?

Temperature is very important for an Alfredo sauce. The sauce should be hot, but not boiling. If the sauce is not hot enough, the cheese may not melt well. A boiling sauce will separate and curdle. To maintain an even temperature, the cheese should be grated very fine and gradually stirred into the sauce in batches, only adding more after the first addition is thoroughly melted and the sauce smooth.

What is Ziti?

Ziti is a slender tubular pasta. It works well with hearty sauces, and is well suited for baked pasta dishes. Any tubular pasta may be substituted for it such as macaroni or penne. Check out our Pasta Types article for more shapes.

Can I cook pasta ahead of time then reheat it?

You can put your pasta on hold for a few minutes by simply putting the colander (that you drained the noodles in) on top of the pot, then covering with the lid. The residual heat/steam will keep the noodles warm for a few minutes. If you want to pre-cook the pasta, and then reheat later, you can do this by cooking it as usual, but leave it slightly undercooked. Drain and toss with a little oil. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Reheat by dropping the noodles into boiling water for a minute or two, until heated through. (Many stock pots come with a pasta strainer basket, and this is a good use for it.) Be sure not to over-cook the pasta.

What does "al dente" mean?

One of the biggest no-no's in pasta preparation is overcooking. Take a cue from the Italians, and boil your pasta until it's al dente, which means "to the tooth." In other words, it should be tender but slightly firm to the bite. The longer you cook pasta, the mushier it gets. Don't rely on the clock to evaluate doneness. Use those teeth!

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Aug. 11, 2009 2:21 pm
how do I make pasta not stick together?
Aug. 23, 2009 7:06 pm
To answer Julie's question, I use a no stick cooking spray, i.e. Pam. I drain the pasta, coat it with cooking spray or olive oil, this seems to work to keep the pasta from sticking together. Now for a question for me; My hubby & I have a disagreement about draining pasta.. He says; After pasta is cooked you wash the pasta in cold water and then run hot water on the pasta??? Where does he get his thinking? I say; Drain the pasta, apply the cooking spray or olive oil to keep the pasta separted and better tasting. I do not rinse my pasta. What's the latest update on cooking pasta. Thanks, Lari
Grandma Diane 
Sep. 16, 2009 3:24 pm
I recenly found your site. All the recipes sound so good to me. But, I have a husband who doesn't like alot of general foods. Some I am able to substitue, hide or let him eat peanut butter sandwich. So many of your recipes have cheese in them. Fine with me, but, that is one of his "no nos". I don't know what to use to substitiute for cheese. If you could give me some help, I sure would appreciate it. I really want to keep him.
Nov. 3, 2009 9:55 am
NEVER rinse your pasta. It has starch on it which helps hold your sauce.
Feb. 3, 2010 9:52 pm
adding oil to the water stops it from foaming over the top of the pot.
Feb. 18, 2010 10:55 am
Is there any way to cook pasta in the microwave? We are having our kitchen redone (no stove for a month) and my son only eats pasta.
Feb. 19, 2010 7:19 am
Yes Sabrina there is. I just cook it like I do on top of the stove, You should have the instructions with your Manual for the microwave. Make sure your pot is big enough.
Feb. 19, 2010 9:37 am
Adding oil to the water may keep it from foaming over, but it also creates a film on the pasta and the sauce won't adhere. If you want to keep the pasta from sticking to itself, simply add some of your sauce to it as soon as it is finished cooking and gently toss.
Feb. 20, 2010 1:27 pm
If I have leftover pasta I freeze it in smaller containers( about 2 cups)for my husband and I. Then I just have to put the sauce on it and for a quick side dish. Thanks for all the helpful suggestion's. Hope mine helps some of your readers.
Mar. 12, 2010 3:58 pm
Have you ever froze homemade noodles (for a couple of days)before cooking them in broth?
Mar. 18, 2010 10:40 am
An easy way to cook pasta is to bring water to boil, add salt and pasta, cover and turn heat off. Rest in hot covered water for 15 minutes. Less time if it is small pasta like mini shells but most pastas will be perfect in 15 minutes. If you want more al dante try 12 minutes or less. Watch out you need to be ready to drain at 15 minutes or pasta will overcook.
Apr. 19, 2010 1:15 pm
Either add sauce to the paste immediately when it is finished, or time it so your pasta finishes near the same time as your sauce. Adding oil to the pasta to keep it from sticking keeps the sauce from being absorbed correctly and takes away a large part of the meal.
May 2, 2010 2:27 pm
About rinsing pasta, to answer Lari's question...It is quickly rinsed with cold water to stop the cooking process and cleanse the starch off. Then, serve immediately, or keep warm, as the other comments suggest.
Sandy W 
May 28, 2010 5:57 am
When I serve pasta with sauce, water forms on the plate under the pasta. How can I prevent this?
Jul. 19, 2010 6:14 am
Hi! In our home we luv canneloni but can someone tell me-do i need to cook this first or how do i do this?
Sep. 8, 2010 11:41 am
I always rinse your pasta in cold water!
Sep. 29, 2010 7:09 am
Hmmm... Lots of differing opinions about rinsing, adding oil, etc. So... checked some "official" italian pasta sites and got the low-down. Essentially, to better wed the pasta to the sauce, prepare the the sauce in a broad skillet and heat it while the pasta cooks. Drain the pasta when it's just shy of done. DO NOT rinse the pasta, or spray with Pam, or olive oil... instead, simply stir it into the sauce before the colander stops dripping completely. Toss the pasta and sauce over high heat for a minute or two, until The pasta is done. The sauce will stick to the pasta properly, and there is no concern about sticking. This technique is called pasta strascicata, and will work especially well with creamy meat or vegetable sauces, sugo alla bolognese, and marinara sauce. Do not use it with sauces that are raw, for example pesto.
Sep. 29, 2010 7:52 am
I should clarify: By adding the pasta to the sauce, and not the sauce to the pasta, there is no concern about the pasta sticking together because it is still moist and not completely cooked as it is transferred to the skillet. (which is why this method won't work with raw sauces). I make my own pasta, and so the biggest danger I have to face is overcooking, not undercooking. I like my pasta very thin, so it is usually in the boiling water for only 60 seconds or so, and never more than 2 minutes. I would never consider rinsing my pasta. Simply drain, add to sauce in warm skillet, toss a little, serve!
Nov. 13, 2010 3:12 pm
do I need semolina flour for pasta? Can I use apf ? Last time I made pasta cooked it it was very gummy. What did I do wrong?
Nov. 19, 2010 8:12 am
How long and at what temperature do I cook my baked spaghetti dish from a frozen state. Or should I thaw it out before baking and then follow the originally recommended time & temp? The recipe just tells the regular cooking time and temp, but goes on to say I can freeze it and cook it later. Help!
Dec. 3, 2010 8:17 pm
Margaret - all purpose flour will work, doesn't compare with Semolina for easy handling. I mix 2cups Semolina, 1/2tsp Salt, 2 eggs, 1Tbsp olive oil, 1/4cup water. You can mix in a bowl, or if you want to be really "cool" you can pour the flour & salt directly onto your work surface, create a hollow in the center of the flour and add the eggs, water and oil into the center. Break the yokes and stir with a fork, slowly incorporating all the flour as you stir. Eventually pulling it all together with your hands. Add a little flour or moisten your hands to achieve the right consistency and smoothness. Semolina will start out feeling very grainy, like corn meal, but will eventually work into a beautiful smooth yellow dough. (about 6 minutes of kneading). This will make 6 to 8 servings, so I usually roll the dough into a ball, cut into quarters. One quarter is perfect for a romantic meal for two. I will take each of the quarters that I don't use, throw them into bucket of white flour to co
Dec. 3, 2010 9:11 pm
Juls, regarding Cannelloni. (I realize it has been six months since you asked the question, but maybe others are wondering the same thing! Yes, you need to cook the pasta first, and in this case... rinse the pasta in cold water to stop the cooking and cool the pasta, because you want the pasta to be al dente. One piece of advice: use FRESH pasta! Either make it yourself. (really easy actually) or buy packaged FRESH pasta. Do not try to use Lasagna noodles. They will work, but just cannot compare with fresh for texture and flavor.
Dec. 14, 2010 4:44 pm
Cannelloni (correction): Actually, whether or not you cook the cannelloni first totally depends upon the recipe. With seafood cannelloni (& others) I cook the seafood filling first, roll it in cooked pasta sheets, place it in a baking dish, cover with prepared sauce and bake for a few minutes to heat and brown. Other recipes (cheese/spinach type fillings in particular) should be rolled in uncooked sheets of pasta and baked.
Jo Jo 
Jan. 20, 2011 11:06 am
Hi all, Please allow me to weigh in...There is no need to rinse pasta, nor to add oil or any cooking sprays after draining. If pasta has enough water in the pot, if the pot is big enough and if you stir the pasta while cooking, it will not stick together. I would not recommend pre-cooking pasta. Pasta is meant to be cooked al-dente and served right away with the sauce or olive oil (for pasta al'olio). If you let it sit with no sauce, it will stick together and become clumpy and gooey. Also, please, please, please do not rinse your pasta after cooking. The starch is what allows the sauce to stick to it. Of course, what you do with your pasta is all a matter of preference, but take it from me and my Italian mother. She's the master, so I've learned from the best. Happy cooking!
Jan. 23, 2011 5:04 pm
One question for Leigh S. Could you please explain to me how you rolled cannelloni in uncooked sheets, or are these fresh made sheets?
Jan. 25, 2011 1:27 pm
when making rolled dumplings about 1/8 thick they turn out tough after cooking where did I go wrong????
May 14, 2011 10:48 am
i would like to make my son's favorite: macaroni and cheese, for his graduation party. can i make this ahead and freeze/reheat it? has anyone done this successfully?
Nov. 9, 2011 10:46 am
how do I cook spaghetti in a small microwave
Nov. 21, 2011 4:18 pm
i am making a large quantity of spaghetti sauce and for some reason it is tasting very sweet. what can i add to take away the sweetness?
Feb. 11, 2012 2:01 pm
I am trying to find out what a serving of sauce is. Every recipe on here has number of servings in the entire recipe, but fails to say what a serving size is. When calculating, do I just take the liquid measurements and divide? Or do I add in some for the hamburger/sausage ect? and if I am to add in, how much do I add? WHat does a pound of burger add to the meal?
Apr. 14, 2012 3:58 am
i see the hot tap water for cooking lasagna is that done without being undercooked? thanks
Sep. 26, 2012 11:05 am
I usually save a bit of the pasta water to put in the sauce if it needs a little thinning. My husband loves anything I do with pasta. His favorite is home grown tomatoes that I slice and roast with just salt, pepper, olive oil and some garlic. It's also great on bread with a little Parmesan cheese.
Dec. 1, 2012 1:40 pm
Dec. 24, 2013 6:38 pm
I froze a homemade lasagna and when I cooked it the sauce became VERY watery? Any suggestions as to what I did wrong? I make lasagna often and have never had this happen. HELP
Mar. 24, 2014 3:30 pm
How do I reheat Baked Ziti from the night before so it doesn't dry out?
Jan. 10, 2015 7:10 am
How do you freeze lasagna? How long in the freezer can you keep it? DO YOU DEFROST IT FIRST BEFORE YOU BAKE IT?
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