How to Use a Pasta Insert (A Guide With Pictures)

Published Categorized as Kitchen
Pasta insert

Are you here because you bought a pasta insert and are curious to see how to use it? Or because you’re thinking of buying one and wondering whether it’s even worth it. Well, my new friend, you are in the right place.

I’ve been using pasta inserts for years. And, though I can immediately confirm to you that it won’t change your life and you can for sure live without one, it makes cooking pasta much more convenient. Continue reading this post to find out exactly how.

For those of you who want to make sure that we’re talking about the same thing… What is a pasta insert?

A pasta insert, also known as a “pasta basket,” is a kitchen tool for boiling pasta noodles. Made from stainless steel, a pasta insert is a tall basket with a fine mesh or small holes that you put inside a boiling pot of water. The pasta insert keeps the pasta noodles contained inside it as they cook.

With a pasta insert, you no longer need to carry around a large pot of water from the cooktop to the sink, so that you can pour the water into the sink and strain the noodles in a colander. Instead, you simply lift the pasta insert—allowing the water to drain and making the pasta noodles ready for tossing with the pasta sauce.

A pasta insert also makes it easier for you to portion pasta when you’re cooking it ahead of time, for a big family, or for many guests in your home. For example, you could cook 2-3 pasta dishes at a time using one pasta insert and a large pot. Or, if you have a cooktop and extra-large pot that allow it, you could cook large quantities of pasta in multiple pasta inserts at a time.

Last but not least, with a pasta insert no pasta noodles get left behind in the pot. And you no longer need to fish for them. I know, I know… that’s not necessarily the biggest problem in the world right now. But it is a convenience if you, like me, cook and eat a little more pasta than you probably should.

I am using a STABIL stainless steel pasta insert that I bought from IKEA. Here’s how it looks like:

IKEA STABIL Stainless Steel Pasta Insert
The IKEA STABIL stainless steel pasta insert

It weighs 7.2 ounces with dimensions of 7×5.5×4.5 inches. I bought it along with a stainless steel pot that I bought from IKEA and, if you’re thinking of buying one and have a store nearby, I can tell you that I’m personally really happy with the two.

How to Use Pasta Insert (Instructions With Pictures)

Step 1. Put the pasta insert in your pot and pour enough water in it. How much water is “enough” will, to a large extent, depend on the size of your pot and pasta insert.

My pot fills up with 12 cups of water, so I fill it with 10 cups of water when I’m boiling pasta noodles with the pasta insert. That way, the water bubbles have enough room to move around when I bring the pasta water to a boil, while no pasta noodles get left behind and end up not being submerged in water.

Here’s how this looks on my pot:

IKEA STABIL Stainless Steel Pasta Insert in IKEA STABIL Stainless Steel Pot
10/12 cups fill my pot with enough water to boil pasta with the insert

Step 2. On your cooktop, salt the water, bring it to a boil on medium-high heat, and put the pasta noodles in the pasta insert.

Alternatively, you can add the pasta insert with the pasta noodles only after you’ve brought the pasta water up to a boil. It’s your kitchen and your rules; whichever way you like more is best. My problem with this way is that it doesn’t really allow me to get the amount of water right.

I don’t know about you, but I love that moment when you first add pasta noodles to a boiling pot of salted water. So I made this goofy GIF to share it with you 🙂 .

via GIPHY

Step 3. When the pasta is cooked, turn off the heat and lift the pasta insert. Let the water drain from the noodles back into the pot, then proceed with tossing the noodles with the sauce.

In “How to Cook Dried Pasta Noodles Perfectly,” I shared my favorite two techniques for cooking pasta noodles “just enough” to make them appetizing and healthy, as well as for tossing them with the sauce in a way that they absorb as much taste and texture as possible.

If you’re into making pasta at home, I do recommend that you check out this post. The post itself is about dried pasta nests like tagliatelle and fettuccine, but the technique applies to all pasta varieties.

Pro tip #1: All pasta inserts have handles. The handles on some pasta inserts will get hotter than others. 

Mine, for example, gets pretty hot because it’s made of bare steel and sits very close to the water. So I hold it with a kitchen towel to avoid burning my hand. Safety first, folks.

Pro tip #2: One thing not everyone tells you about pasta inserts is that you can use them for cooking other foods than pasta. 

Your pasta insert will come pretty handy when you’re making bone stock or vegetable broth (they keep the bones or veggies confined and easy to remove) and when you’re boiling veggies for sides (you don’t need to fish the veggies out when they’re done).

How to Choose a Pasta Insert

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re choosing a pasta insert is its size. The diameter and height of the pasta insert should be smaller than the width and the height of your pot. 

The second consideration to make is what type of pasta insert you want to buy. In general, there are two types of pasta inserts: with a fine mesh and with small holes. The main differences between the two are in their shape and the pasta varieties that they’re best-suited for.

Pasta inserts with a fine mesh are usually circular or oval in shape. Because of the fine mesh, they’re suited for bigger and for smaller pasta varieties like spaghetti, bucatini, orzo, and macaroni.

Pasta inserts with small holes tend to come in many shapes. Because smaller pasta noodles can escape from the holes, they are better-suited for larger pasta varieties like penne, rigatoni,  tagliatelle, fettuccine, pappardelle, and farfalle.

The Bottom Line

Yes, you can cook pasta at home without a pasta insert. But once you get one, you won’t want to. A pasta insert is simply one of those trusty and useful kitchen tools for home cooks who like to make pasta often.

Pasta inserts are made from stainless steel and generally come in two varieties: with a fine mesh and with small holes. Pasta inserts with a fine mesh are more versatile than those with small holes as they work with smaller and thinner pasta varieties.

When choosing a pasta insert for your home kitchen, make sure the height and diameter of the pasta insert are smaller than the height and diameter of the pot that you’re going to use it in.

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.