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How To: Sauce and Serve Pasta

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Behind every great pasta dinner is a great sauce. It’s not just the flavor of a sauce that matters. It matters when and how the sauce and pasta come together. Properly saucing your pasta is the difference between cooking an authentic Italian meal and simply preparing Italian ingredients. This guide will teach you the right way to sauce and serve pasta.

Cooking pasta and sauce might seem like a no-brainer. Who doesn’t know how to prepare and serve up a classic plate of pasta and sauce? You might be surprised. 

Some of the most memorable imagery in the U.S. (in movies and television, for instance) showcase the classic Italian dish of spaghetti and sauce as a pile of plain, undressed noodles topped with a generous scoop of bright red tomato sauce. Though this is very iconic of Italian-American cuisine, you would never see such a scene in Italy.

First, in authentic Italian cuisine, the sauce is always tossed with the pasta before it ever hits the plate. Just before the sauce is done cooking, the hot pasta is added to the saucepan. 

Generally speaking, we recommend cooking the pasta in the sauce together for about 1-2 minutes. Cooking them together helps to coat the pasta and to marry the flavors. The second point to make here is that there should only be enough sauce to coat the pasta, not drown it.pa

Pasta Sauce Serving Tips | Serve Pasta the Italian Way

Cook sauce first. Keep the sauce on a low simmer until pasta is ready. Your pasta shouldn’t wait for your sauce to cook. Waiting will lead to overcooked, overly starchy pasta.

Go easy on the sauce. Authentic Italian pasta sauce servings are light. Italian dishes do not swim in sauce. An average ratio of tomato sauce to pasta is 1 1/2 cups of sauce to 1 pound of pasta.  

For oil-based sauces, use 1 cup per 1 pound of pasta. Go even lighter with creamy, rich sauces. Typically, we like the ratio of one jar of our sauce to 1 pound (or package) of our pasta.

Don’t dump that pasta water. That hot starchy water is an asset to your pasta dishes. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water before draining your noodles.

Add the reserved pasta water to the saucepan just after the hot pasta is added to the sauce. When adding this hot pasta water, be sure to do it a little bit at a time until you get the desired consistency.

     •    For thicker sauces, use pasta water to make the consistency thinner and lighter.
     •    For oil-based sauces, use pasta water as a binder to help sauces coat the noodles.

Do not rinse your pasta. The only time you should rinse your pasta in cold water is when you plan on creating a cold pasta dish or pasta salad. Rinsing the pasta will cool it down quickly and prevent the noodles from sticking. Rinsing pasta removes the starches necessary for the sauce to stick. Likewise, never add oil to the cooked pasta.

Keep it together. Cook pasta and sauce together for 2 minutes to marry their flavors. The added starchy water will also help to develop flavors and coat each noodle—transfer pasta to a warm serving bowl to dish out.

Need some more inspiration? Check our gallery of recipes!