A step-by-step guide to cooking the perfect pasta, every time.

By Liz Mervosh
March 20, 2019
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A little pasta cooking liquid, a tangle of just-tender noodles, and you’re well on your way to weeknight dinner bliss. But if standard boxed pasta is your go-to, it’s time to take your game to the next level. Artisanal dried pastas (look for “bronze cut” on the label) are now common on grocery shelves and are well worth the switch. Extruded through bronze dies, they have a rough, textured surface that helps sauces cling to the pasta. As an added bonus, the starches that are cast off into the salty pasta cooking water become the foundation of a number of elegant pan sauces, thickening them while suspending fats to help create a creamy emulsion. Whether you choose tubular rigatoni dressed in a chicken liver ragù or silky ribbons of tagliatelle in a pasta primavera, follow our simple master technique below to enjoy the ultimate pasta night.

1. Boil Water

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On back burner, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a 6- to 8-quart tall pot over high. Stir in 1/4 cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (water should taste like the sea). Meanwhile, prepare sauce in a large skillet on front burner.

2. Cook Pasta

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Drop pasta into boiling water; stir for a few seconds to prevent sticking. Allow water to return to a boil quickly. Cook until very al dente, about 3 minutes shorter than package calls for. Using long tongs, transfer pasta to skillet.

3. Stir and Toss

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Stir and shake skillet constantly, and toss to coat pasta with sauce ingredients in pan. Add butter or other fat  to pan (depending on your recipe), and immediately add pasta cooking liquid (see Step 4.)

4. Add Pasta Cooking Liquid

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Using a handled heatproof measuring cup, add 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Stir and add up to 1/2 cup more liquid as needed to maintain 1/4 to 1/2 inch of sauce in pan.

5. Simmer & Shake

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Bring mixture in pan to a simmer and continue to stir and shake pasta in skillet until sauce becomes creamy and emulsifies, clinging to noodles and pooling in skillet, 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Garnish & Serve

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When sauce is creamy, thickened, and clinging to noodles, turn off heat and sprinkle in cheese, fresh herbs, or other uncooked garnishes. Toss again to incorporate, and serve immediately.

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