How to Make Spaghetti That's Cooked to Al Dente Perfection
A plate of spaghetti with a delicious spaghetti sauce—such as marinara, bolognese, carbonara, and more—is one of our favorite forms of comfort food. We're sharing some of our Test Kitchen tips for successfully cooking spaghetti. So bring your water to a boil and let's get started.
Although spaghetti often refers to a pasta dish with tomato sauce (usually marinara sauce), it is really just the name of the pasta shape. Spaghetti is an Italian name for long, thin strings of pasta, typically made of semolina flour and water. Because of its shape, spaghetti pairs well with light and thin sauces that will cling to the pasta. It can be used in a variety of dishes such as baked spaghetti (like this spaghetti pie), spaghetti alla carbonara, a pasta salad, and it can even be added to soups. Once you know how to cook it, the options are endless.
Related: Our Best Spaghetti Recipes
How to Cook Spaghetti
It simply comes down to boil, cook, drain, and top, but our Test Kitchen has come up with a few tips and tricks to achieve the best results for making spaghetti.
Step 1: Bring Water to a Boil
Fill a large pot with plenty of cold water (use 3 quarts of water for every 4 to 8 ounces of dried spaghetti). If desired, add salt to the water for seasoning. Bring the water to a rolling boil.
- Test Kitchen Tip: Some people add a tablespoon of olive oil or cooking oil to the water to keep the spaghetti from sticking together. However, we recommend not adding oil because it keeps your spaghetti sauce from adhering to the pasta. To prevent the spaghetti from sticking together, make sure you use enough water, cook it at a rolling boil, and stir the spaghetti occasionally during cooking.
Step 2: Add the Spaghetti Noodles
Once the water is boiling, add the spaghetti a little at a time so the water doesn't stop boiling. Reduce the heat slightly so the water doesn't boil over; boil, uncovered, until the spaghetti is al dente, using the package directions as a guide for timing.
- Test Kitchen Tip: You don't need to break spaghetti noodles in half so they all get submerged in the boiling water at once. After just 30 seconds or so, the noodles will soften and the entire noodle will end up in the boiling water.
Step 3: Test Spaghetti Doneness
Spaghetti doneness is determined by a taste test. Cook spaghetti until it is al dente, which is Italian for "to the tooth." This means cook until the pasta has a firm, slightly chewy texture. Test near the end of the cooking time by giving the spaghetti a taste. Undercooked pasta will have a hard core, and overcooked pasta will be sticky and soggy.
Step 4: Drain and Serve
When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, drain it in a colander and shake well to remove excess water that could make your sauce runny.
- Test Kitchen Tip: Do not rinse the spaghetti because it removes the light coating of starch that helps sauces and seasonings cling. Pasta continues to cook after draining, so serve it immediately. If your drained spaghetti needs to sit before using, return it to the warm cooking pan (off the heat), toss it with a little butter or olive oil to prevent sticking, and cover for up to 15 minutes. Remember, adding oil will inhibit sauce clinging to the pasta, so try to keep it minimal.
10 Spaghetti Toppers to Try:
Start with cooked spaghetti topped with marinara sauce and add these toppers for a twist on the classic spaghetti recipe.
1. Cooked, drained, and crumbled sweet or spicy Italian sausage.
2. Shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano made by scraping a vegetable peeler across the chunk of cheese.
3. Slivered Kalamata olives, crumbled feta, and snipped fresh oregano.
4. Dried tomatoes, fresh basil, and coarsely chopped marinated artichoke hearts.
5. Shredded fresh spinach and crumbled crispy bacon.
6. Long, thin ribbons of carrot, zucchini, and/or summer squash sautéed with minced garlic and olive oil.
7. Crumbled blue cheese and toasted pine nuts.
8. Purchased cooked meatballs and grated pecorino cheese.
9. Sautéed chopped leeks and sliced mushrooms with chopped toasted almonds.
10. Roasted red sweet peppers and shredded Asiago cheese.
For more creative ways to make spaghetti try our fun spaghetti recipes for Bacon and Egg Spaghetti and Mac and Cheese Spaghetti. These make excellent choices for kids (and adults) who turn up their noses at tomato sauces.
Spaghetti Shopping and Storage
When it comes to buying dried spaghetti, the selections are numerous. Whole wheat and multigrain spaghettis offer more fiber than the traditional semolina variety. Vegetable pastas, such as spinach or beet, add colorful options. And for gluten-free meals, look for corn, rice, chickpea, or quinoa spaghetti (also try our gluten-free marinara sauce). Store dried spaghetti in the package or a covered container in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.