Freeze your spaghetti with the sauce so that they’re ready for you to thaw, reheat, and eat whenever you’re hungry and short on time. Here’s how.
Spaghetti, an Italian-American staple for any day of the week and any time of the year, is cheap enough not to break the bank, filing and hearty enough to feed the whole family, and, once mastered, ridiculously easy to cook.
If you want to freeze spaghetti, cook the noodles al dente, toss them with the sauce, let them cool, and put them in freezer bags or food storage containers, dividing them up into meal-sized, ready-to-thaw portions.
When freezing spaghetti, the sauce makes all the difference. Oil, tomato, and pesto sauces freeze well, whereas cream and cheese sauces don’t. Though the latter will be safe to eat, cream will separate and cheese will curdle once thawed.
Read on to find out why this is the absolute best way to freeze leftover spaghetti with sauce, how long the cooked spaghetti will keep in the freezer, and how to defrost and reheat them when you get the munchies for them once again.
Freezing Sauced Spaghetti
There’s more than one way to freeze spaghetti. However, if you toss the pasta with the sauce before freezing, you get the tastiest and easiest to eat dish, as the flavors and aromas meld together and reheating is just a formality.
If you find yourself overly busy to cook in the week, you can even meal-prep batches of spaghetti, or preserve leftovers for lunches or mid-day snacks. So let’s have the food talk and discuss how to freeze cooked spaghetti with the sauce properly.
Step 1. Cook Pasta Al Dente
“Al dente” is the term professional chefs use to describe pasta that has been boiled about 2 to 3 minutes shorter than the cooking time recommended on the package. Al dente spaghetti is tender and cooked through on the inside, but firm and with a barely noticeable crunch on the outside.
Cooking spaghetti al dente is important for the freezing process. Soft or mushy noodles do not keep well when you want to reheat them, especially if they have sauce on them. The spaghetti should have some firmness to them, and not break apart when thawed and reheated.
Make sure your pasta sauce is prepared in advance. As soon as your spaghetti are cooked, you will toss them with the sauce, serving some of them and letting the rest cool down for subsequent freezing.
Step 2. Sauce Pasta and Allow It to Cool
Don’t put warm or, worse, steaming-hot food in your freezer. This will heat up the appliance, if temporarily, and part-thaw some of the foods inside. The result is a freezer that’s turned into a breeding ground for bacteria, putting anyone who eats the food items inside at risk of food poisoning.
To prevent this, simply let the leftover pasta cool while you eat the rest. But don’t wait too long: according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooked food shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than 1 to 2 hours, or it will become unsafe to eat.
Pour the sauce over the spaghetti, toss it all together, and let the dish sit on the counter for 20-30 minutes so it can cool to room temperature and be safely frozen. You know it’s done when you put the spaghetti in the freezer bag or storage container and there’s no condensation.
Step 3. Divide Up Into Meal-Sized Portions
Once the spaghetti with sauce has cooled, it can be transferred to freezer bags or storage containers. Remember that spaghetti will stick to anything it comes in contact with. If you coat the inside of the bag or container with olive oil, you can prevent this.
Instead of freezing the whole bowl, divide the spaghetti into meal-sized, thawable portions. This way, you can defrost and reheat as much of the cooked spaghetti as you need for lunch or dinner without spoiling the rest and having to throw them in the garbage. Besides, smaller portions are easier and faster to thaw.
Be sure to label and date the container or bag. Frozen foods are safe to eat indefinitely, the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA says, though their aroma, flavor and texture will start to deteriorate sooner rather than later (more on this below). Place the containers in the freezer and you should be ready to go.
How Long With Sauced Spaghetti Last When Frozen?
Freezing doesn’t kill the germs and bacteria in and on your food. Instead, it puts them on pause until you thaw the food to a temperature above 32°F (0°C). This is why food safety experts unanimously agree that frozen food stays safe to eat forever.
Over time, these foods dry out and lose their best flavor, taste, texture, and even nutritional value. Particularly, sauced spaghetti keeps its best quality for 3-4 months. So if you want them to have their best quality after thawing, you should eat them within this period.
Of course, you can freeze the spaghetti noodles and sauce separately for more versatility—that way, you can use a different sauce for the leftover noodles and put the sauce on something else. But, by doing so, you are giving up the convenience of a ready-made meal.
Thawing Frozen Sauced Spaghetti
Freezing sauced spaghetti is half the battle. The other half is learning how to defrost it properly so that it is not only tasty, but safe for you and the other members of your household to eat.
There are three ways to properly thaw frozen spaghetti, and one where it can go horribly wrong. The right way is in the fridge, in cold water, and in the microwave. The wrong way is at room temperature.
Defrosting takes time, and, even for a serving-sized spaghetti dish, it will certainly take you more than 1-2 hours. So leaving the dish out on the counter, unless you want to risk food poisoning (trust us; you don’t) is completely out of the question.
Thawing Frozen Sauced Spaghetti in the Fridge
The safest, simplest, and by far most convenient way to thaw frozen cooked spaghetti, particularly for those of you who like to plan ahead, is by taking them out of the freezer and leaving them overnight in the fridge.
Put the amount of sauced spaghetti that you want in the fridge the night before, preferably in a deep plate or bowl to catch any drippings. Smaller servings should be ready to reheat in the morning; bigger ones can take until dinner.
With this method, unlike all others, you don’t have to reheat and eat the spaghetti as soon as they are fully thawed. Plus, even if you get held up by something else or forget about the spaghetti until they day after, you won’t have to throw them away.
Thawing Frozen Sauced Spaghetti in Cold Water
Thawing in cold water is faster than thawing in the refrigerator. Nine times out of ten, it takes 30 minutes to 1 hour to thaw a serving of frozen spaghetti so you can reheat it.
But it’s more tedious, and you need to reheat and eat the spaghetti immediately after thawing because, if you leave it at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours, the bacteria in it can rise to potentially harmful levels.
Make sure the frozen spaghetti is tightly sealed in the freezer bag or storage container—and that no water can get into it. Fill a large bowl with cold water, submerge the spaghetti and change the water every 10-15 minutes until thawed.
Thawing Frozen Sauced Spaghetti in Microwave
The quickest way to thaw frozen sauced spaghetti is by heating it in the microwave. This can also be used to supplement any of the other methods above or on its own.
Put the spaghetti in a microwave-safe bowl and cover tightly with the lid. Defrost in the microwave in 20-30 second intervals, or on low, until the meal is completely defrosted. Usually, this will take 2-3 minutes for smaller portions and 4-5 minutes for larger portions.
Wait until the dish is completely thawed before reheating it (we will get to the best reheating technique in a minute). This prevents the creation of hot and cold spots, and it allows for a shorter cooking time.
How to Reheat Spaghetti
Put 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in a frying pan and spread it over the bottom and sides with a paper towel. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Ceramic and nonstick pans preheat for 20-30 seconds; their cast iron skillets and stainless steel counterparts for 3-4 minutes.
Add the spaghetti to the hot pan and half a soup ladle of water, then let it heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is nice and warm again. The trick is to remove the spaghetti from the heat as soon as it’s steaming; you do not want to cook it twice (and thus overcook it).
You add the water to refresh the spaghetti and prevent it from clumping. When to add the grated cheese is a matter of preference: You can do this after you remove the pan from the heat, or you can grate the cheese directly onto the pasta dish as soon as you dress it.
Learning how to freeze and thaw sauced spaghetti properly lets you get the most out of your dish, especially when you accidentally make too much.
Remember to cook the pasta al dente and let it cool before freezing. Using the food as soon as it is thawed is essential for safest food practice and so you can have the tastiest leftovers possible.