Mac n’ cheese or penne with a simple sauce like butter and Parmesan might have been one of the first dishes you “mastered” making, but as with most things, there’s always more to learn. When it comes to cooking pasta, if you want to get to the next level and truly win at #adulting, you need to learn Chef Suz’s top two lessons for making restaurant-quality pasta:
1. The pasta cooking water is your secret ingredient
2. Sauce does not go on your pasta. Your pasta goes IN your sauce.
Now for the details…
To make the most delicious bowl of pasta to ever come out of your kitchen, salt your pasta water very generously with kosher or sea salt and bring it to a boil in a large pot. Cooking your pasta in salty water will infuse it with flavor far more than salting it afterwards will.
While your pasta is cooking (to al dente, aka tender with a slight bite!), get a pan going with your sauce, be it marinara, butter and olive oil, or pesto. Bring it to a simmer so it’s hot and ready to receive some pasta.
When your pasta is ready to be drained, first save about 1 cup of the cooking water, scooping it out with a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, and set it aside. Now drain your pasta.
Immediately add your pasta to the pan of simmering sauce over medium heat. Stir to coat. Add pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time—you might not need all of it—and continue simmering until your sauce is silky and clinging to your noodles (thanks to that starch from your pasta water). If you’re finishing with cheese (always a good idea), remove your pan from the heat before stirring it in. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed, then serve pronto.