How To: Sauce and Serve Pasta

POSTED August 22, 2014

Behind every great pasta is a great sauce. But it’s not just the sauce’s flavor that matters, but when and how the sauce and come together. Correctly saucing your pasta is the difference between cooking authentic Italian and just preparing Italian ingredients.

Some of the most memorable American imagery and cinema showcase the classic Italian dish of spaghetti and sauce as a mound of plain, undressed cooked pasta noodles mounded high on a dish, then topped with a ladleful of red tomato sauce. Though this is very iconic of Italian-American cuisine, a dish of pasta served this way in Italy would be a disaster.

In authentic Italian cuisine, the pasta sauce is always incorporated into the pasta before serving.  And furthermore, the amount of sauce used is just enough to coat the pasta, not drown it.

How to Sauce and 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.

Go easy on the sauce. Authentic Italian pasta 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. 

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. And when you do drain, do it loosely to keep the pasta moist. Never rinse the pasta, unless you’re using the pasta later and want to keep it from sticking. Add reserved pasta water slowly, a tablespoon at a time, to your saucepan with hot pasta and sauce.

     •    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.

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 warm serving bowl to dish out.