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Are You Supposed to Wash Pasta Before Cooking?

Regular readers of this blog know about my obsession with pasta. And how I like to find out what questions people are actually asking about making pasta online, answering them in the form of blog posts here.

One of those questions, it turns out, is if you’re supposed to wash pasta noodles before cooking. Which is what we’re going to be looking into today.

Keep on reading if I’ve got you curious.

Should you wash pasta before cooking?

There’s no reason to rinse pasta, fresh or dried, before cooking. In fact, your pasta dish will come out tastier if you don’t. As you boil the noodles, the starches contained in them will dissolve into the pasta water, giving them a sticky coating that will help the pasta sauce to cling to them once they’re done boiling.

Instead of rinsing the noodles before cooking, here’s what to do the next time you make pasta at home:

  1. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water per 1 pound of pasta to a boil;
  2. Add 1-2 pinches of sea salt to the pasta water, making it taste like the sea;
  3. When the water reaches a gentle boil, add the noodles to it, stir them for 5 seconds, and leave them to boil;
  4. Boil the noodles for 2-3 minutes less than the recommended cooking time in the instructions on the package;
  5. Toss the noodles with the pasta sauce in a frying pan over medium heat;
  6. With a soup ladle, add a spoonful of starchy and salty pasta water to the frying pan, seasoning and thickening the pasta sauce as a result;
  7. Cook for about 1-2 minutes, stirring often, and you will be ready to serve.

Notice a couple of things here:

We don’t rinse the pasta noodles before cooking. If you rinse the noodles before cooking them, you’ll wash away the starches contained on the surface. Since less starches will dissolve in the pasta water as the noodles boil, the pasta water is going to come out less starchy and the sauce will have a harder time clinging to the noodles themselves.

We don’t add olive oil to the pasta water. Adding olive oil to the pasta water doesn’t do anything for your pasta dish other than greasing the surface of the noodles and making it impossible for them to absorb sauce when you toss them with it. Which means your pasta dish will come out bland.

There’s a very simple and logical scientific reason behind that, by the way. As I mentioned in “I Stopped Adding Oil to Pasta Water (And You Should, Too)”, water and oil molecules don’t mix. To make tasty food at home, learn how to cook with the laws of nature, not against them.

We are careful to not overcook the pasta. In fact, we intentionally almost undercook it. We cook it for 2-3 minutes less than the recommended cooking time in the instructions. 

Why? Because pasta has a more appetizing texture and is easier for your body to digest when slightly undercooked. And because it will continue cooking when you toss it over medium heat for 2-3 minutes with the pasta sauce in your frying pan.

Italian chefs call this style of cooking “al dente,” or “to the teeth.” The authentic and traditional way to cook pasta noodles is al dente. The noodles are cooked just enough on the inside, but still have a little bit of crunch on the outside.

As I wrote in “This Is How to Tell When Pasta Is Done,” the exact cooking time for making al dente pasta will depend on the noodles that you’re using. In that post, I’ve shared rule-of-thumb timings that you can use to start experimenting with this style of cooking.

We don’t throw away the pasta water and we don’t rinse the noodles after they’re done boiling. On the contrary; we take a spoonful of the starchy and salty pasta water and add it to our pasta sauce as we’re tossing the noodles with it. 

Adding pasta water to the pasta sauce thickens it and additionally seasons it with a starchy and salty taste. This technique works exceptionally well if you’re making pasta in a hurry—and want to enhance the taste and texture of store-bought pasta sauce.

Can You Leave Pasta In the Water After Cooking?

Don’t leave pasta noodles in the pasta water after they’re done boiling. They’ll soak up too much moisture, becoming soggy and unappetizing. Instead, only boil as much pasta noodles as you can toss with the pasta sauce.

If you have pasta leftovers, you can place them in a food container, let them cool down, and store them for up to 5 days in the fridge or for up to 30 days in the freezer. Save a cup of pasta water in the fridge as well, as it will be useful when reheating the pasta. 

To thaw frozen pasta, transfer it the night before to the fridge. Reheat pasta in a frying pan over medium heat, adding a spoonful of pasta water as you stir the pasta to rehydrate it. When the pasta is hot—and the sauce and water are homogeneous—you’re ready to serve the dish.

The Bottom Line

There’s no need to rinse pasta noodles before or after cooking them. If you do so, you will wash away the starches. Instead, you want to dissolve these starches in the pasta water as the noodles boil, using them to thicken and season your pasta sauce.

This technique works on fresh and dried pasta noodles, as well as for tomato-, cheese-, and cream-based sauces. Try it out and let me and the rest of this post’s readers know how it worked out for you in the comments below.

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Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.