Although pasta is a simple, satisfying, affordable food, it takes some finesse to cook it properly, so it doesn't stick together. Sticky pasta does a faulty job mixing with sauce, and you may find yourself slicing through a glutinous mass. Properly cooked pasta separates easily into distinct strands or pieces that are neither too firm nor too soft, creating dishes that are both comforting and elegant.
Boiling, Stirring and Oiling
Use 5 quarts of water for every pound of pasta, giving the noodles plenty of space to cook. Attend closely to your pasta while it's cooking to prevent unnecessary sticking. Make sure the water is boiling fully before adding the noodles. Pasta is most likely to stick during the first minute or two after you add it to the water, so stir it well right away, scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent clumping and burning. After the first few minutes, it isn't necessary to stir pasta as often. Adding oil to the water can further reduce stickiness, although it may prevent sauce from adhering to the pasta later.
The sooner you serve your pasta after it's done cooking, the less sticky it will be. Have your sauce ready before you start boiling the pasta, so the two components can be mixed and served right away. Also, set up the other elements of your meal such as serving plates and cheese, so you can transfer the pasta as quickly as possible after you drain and toss it. If you're assembling lasagna or a spaghetti bake, set up your workstation in advance so you can start layering right away.
Rinsing or Oiling
If your prep flow doesn't allow you to cook pasta immediately before serving, you run the risk of pasta growing sticky while it sits. After draining pasta, you can run water through it in the colander to rinse off some of the starch that makes it clump together, especially if you are making a cold pasta salad. Although this will keep your pasta from sticking, it will also keep the sauce from sticking to the noodles, leaving you with a less flavorful pasta dish. Toss cooked spaghetti with olive oil if your sauce isn't ready yet. The oil will help to keep the strands cleanly separated.
Sticky Pasta Varieties
Some types of pasta are more prone to stick than other kinds. Small pastas such as rice-shaped orzo and peppercorn-sized acini de pepe are especially prone to sticking, and thin spaghetti such as angel hair is stickier than thicker strands. Lasagna noodles, as well, tend to stick together while cooking and also stick to the bottom of the pan. Medium-size pasta pieces such as spirals and penne are least likely to stick when cooking. When using a particularly sticky pasta shape, stir it as much as possible while it's cooking.
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