Can You Leave Pasta in the Water After Cooking?

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
Boiling tomato sauce for pasta

I’m on a pasta spree this week. I’m cooking pasta, eating pasta, and answering the questions on the Internet that everyday folks like you and me are asking about pasta the most. 

Like many things in home cooking, making pasta in a way that it tastes good and is enough to feed your entire family is a deceptively-simple thing.

Unless you have the time to cook for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and, let’s be honest, most folks don’t), you’re probably going to make more pasta than your household can eat in a single meal—and save the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch or next Monday’s dinner.

Which leads many home cooks to ask…Can you leave pasta in water after cooking?

Don’t leave pasta in the water after it’s done cooking. If you made more noodles than you can eat, toss them with sauce for 2-3 minutes over medium heat in a frying pan. Put the pasta in a food container, letting it cool down with the lid open for about an hour. Store the meal for up to 5 days in the fridge or up to 30 days in the freezer.

If you leave the pasta in the water for a long time, the noodles will eventually soak up moisture and become soggy. Since soggy pasta is unappetizing and impossible to fix, you’re much better off tossing leftover noodles with the sauce as soon as you’re done cooking them—and storing the ready-made pasta meal in the fridge or freezer.

As many other things in food storage, this technique solves one problem and creates another. How do you reheat pasta after it’s been frozen or refrigerated?

Before I answer your question, let’s look at how not to reheat pasta:

  • Don’t reheat pasta in the microwave because it will come out rubbery.
  • Don’t reheat pasta in the oven because it will come out dry. Here’s a neat trick to reheat pasta and make it taste as if you just made it instead.

Let’s go back to when you made the leftover pasta in the first place.

How to Reheat Pasta So That It Doesn’t Dry

Cook your pasta in salty water. As I wrote in “Are You Supposed to Wash Pasta Before Cooking?”, don’t rinse the pasta before or after you cook it. And don’t add olive oil or anything else other than sea salt and pasta noodles to the water.

About 2-3 minutes before the recommended cooking time in the instructions on the package, take the noodles out of the pasta water and toss them with the sauce, for 2-3 minutes over medium heat, in a frying pan. As you cook the pasta with the sauce, add a soup ladle of pasta water. The starchy and pasta water will thicken and season your pasta sauce.

If you’re wondering why I tend to cook my pasta 2-3 minutes less than the cooking time in the instructions, check out my recent post, “This Is How to Tell When Pasta Is Cooked.” After learning this technique from a YouTube channel with some of the best chefs in Italy, it became the only way I make pasta.

Don’t throw the rest of the pasta water away. Instead, save it in a cup or a food container and put it in the fridge or freezer right next to your leftover pasta meal.

Whenever you feel like eating pasta, reheat the pasta meal on medium heat in a frying pan, adding 1 ladle of pasta water to it. Reheat until the pasta is hot and the sauce and pasta water have become consistent and homogenous.

Remember this trick when you cook, preserve, and reheat pasta—and your reheated pasta meals will never come out dry.

How to Thaw Pasta

Here, I’m going to assume that you cooked the pasta noodles, tossed them in a frying pan with the sauce, then stored them in a food container, putting it in the freezer.

To thaw frozen pasta, move it from the freezer to the fridge the night before you plan to eat it. As a rule of thumb, anywhere from 12 to 24 hours will do, with a preference for the longer thawing time.

The Bottom Line

Sure, you can leave pasta in the water. After all, it’s your kitchen and you can do whatever you want.

The real question to ask here is if you want to leave the pasta in the water after it’s done cooking. Because if you do, you will end up with a bland, mushy mess that tastes like nothing and sticks to your stomach.

Instead, sauce the pasta, put it to a food storage container, and store it in your fridge where it will keep for 3-4 days. And save some salty and starchy pasta water in a cup, refrigerated, while you’re at it. It will help you bring the pasta dish back to life when reheating.

To reheat pasta, add a dollop or two to your frying pan and set the heat to medium. Add the pasta, along with half a ladle of preserved pasta water, and reheat until the water has cooked down and the pasta dish is steaming hot.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.