A pasta insert is a tall and cylindrical kitchen utensil with a sieve-like mesh or colander-like holes. It makes portioning, boiling, and straining pasta easier by confining it as it cooks.
Use a pasta insert by placing it in your pot, filling the pot with enough water, and bringing the water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta, cooking it to your desired doneness. Once the pasta is done, simply lift the insert to drain the pasta from the water—and transfer it to your saucepan for saucing.
Some pasta inserts come with long handles that don’t get hot, which you can easily hold with your hand. Others (mine included) have metal handles that heat up pretty intensely, so you have to handle them with a kitchen towel to protect your hand from burns.
Pasta inserts are staple tools for self-respecting Italian chefs and handy utensils for home cooks who make pasta often or feed a large family. Plus, they can also be used for steaming vegetables and blanching shellfish. You can deep-fry chicken or make French fries with one.
At least for the time being, our household consists of my wife and me, so I don’t really belong to either of these two groups. Still, I cook 99% of my pasta with an IKEA Stabil pasta insert, and I don’t intend to change that.
Sure, it’s not a tool that’s as indispensable as a chef’s knife, frying pan, or cutting board—and I could probably live without it. But it makes cooking pasta, especially the straining part, so much easier!
Before I started using a pasta insert, I had to fish around for the shapes or noodles, or carry the pot of steaming water all the way from my cooktop to the kitchen sink, only to pour its contents into a strainer.
Regular readers of Home Cook World know that I like to cook the sauce while the pasta is boiling. As soon as the pasta is cooked al dente, all I have to do is lift the insert, drain the pasta from the water, and tip the insert over my saucepan. Then, I usually toss the sauce with the shapes or noodles over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, at which point I plate and serve.
Another thing I like about inserts is that they make cleanup easier. The pasta doesn’t come into contact with the high heat of the bottom of your pot—and none of it will stick. As you can imagine, it makes cleanup easier when steaming or blanching veggies and seafood, or deep-frying chicken and Fries.
How to Select a Pasta Insert
Are you looking for a pasta insert? You basically have two choices. You can either buy a pasta pot with a dedicated pasta insert or, if you already have a pasta pot, buy one that fits it.
If you’re buying a pot with an insert, consider the number of persons you cook for daily. Those of you who cook for 1-2 persons should get a 4 to 6-quart pot. Those of you who feed 3+ persons will probably need the extra space that only an 8 to 12-quart pot can give you.
If you’re buying just the insert, make sure it fits your pot. Measure out your pasta pot’s height and diameter with a tape measure (or an app on your phone), or determine the exact dimensions by looking up its make and model online (as long as you’re sure that that’s the exact one).
Obviously, you don’t want to buy a 12-quart insert for a 6-quart pot. With the confusing way manufacturers write product descriptions nowadays, that’s easier to happen than most of you out there probably think.
Buy it nice (or buy it twice). “I would have loved to have used this,” someone who bought a $19.99 pasta pot wrote in a review, “but upon opening the box, I was met with a Proposition 65 warning.”
So buy an insert made of high-quality stainless steel and from a brand that you can trust. Yes, all of them are made in China. But material sourcing and quality control vary from one subcontractor to another—and unknown brands tend to skimp on quality to add to their already-thin profit margins.
My pick for those of you who are looking for a pasta pot with a pasta insert is the All-Clad 6-Quart Pasta Pot. It’s made of single-ply, highly-polished 18/10 stainless steel and comes with a thick, warp-resistant aluminum base for fast and even heating.
As with all cookware made by All-Clad, it’s more expensive than most other brands. At the same time, it’s more durable. With enough care and attention from your side, it can last you a lifetime (and get handed down for a few generations). All in all, a good piece to have in your home kitchen.
Keep in mind that, unlike All-Clad’s frying pans, made in the American company’s Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, this pasta pot is made by subcontractors in China. This is why readers shopping for cookware on a budget should consider its cheaper (and double-sized) counterpart, the Cuisinart 12-Quart Pasta/Steamer Set.
Why use a pasta insert? Though I can probably come up with 1,001 more reasons, it ultimately comes down to one thing: convenience. You can probably live and cook without one. The thing is that, after using it for a while, you won’t want to.