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Prevent Cooked Noodles From Getting Sticky (and Other Essential Pasta Cooking Tips)

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Cooking pasta is as simple as dumping noodles into a pot of boiling water—but there are certain tips that chefs use to make sure their pasta comes out perfect every time. To prevent sticky noodles, un-stick them in a snap, and get other essential pasta cooking tips, read on.

To prevent sticky noodles

If you’re not using your pasta noodles right away, or if your sauce still needs 20 minutes to simmer, you don’t want your cooked noodles sitting around getting sticky. Here’s how to prevent this: Right as your noodles finish cooking (follow package directions to see how long they need), drain them immediately. While still in the colander or strainer, add a small trickle of olive oil to the noodles. Use tongs or a large fork to gently mix the olive oil into the noodles, fully coating them.

The tiny bit of oil that coats the noodles will keep them slick and stick-free. Only add enough oil to just coat the noodles—usually about 1 tablespoon of oil for a whole pot of noodles.

To un-stick cooked noodles

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From the Organic Authority Files

If you didn’t oil your noodles once you drained them, or if they’ve still somehow become stuck together (perhaps you cooked them this morning but are now using them for dinner), a quick rinse under warm water is an easy remedy. Simply place your cooked noodles in a colander and run under warm water. Use your fingers to untangle and un-stick any noodles manually. Shake out the excess water and your noodles are all set.

And other tips …

Cook your noodles in a large pot of boiling water. It’s tempting to skimp on the amount of water you cook your noodles in, especially if you’re only cooking enough pasta for one or two servings. But cooking your noodles in a full pot of water helps prevent them from sticking together as they cook. So fill that giant pot of water and be patient as you wait for it to come to a rapid boil before adding your noodles.

Add a few healthy pinches of salt to your noodles as they cook in boiling water. The noodles will absorb some of the salt while cooking and take on a bit of flavor right off the bat—so you won’t have to add as much salt to your sauce in the end.

When possible, combine your cooked noodles and warm pasta sauce immediately after draining the noodles. This will eliminate the need to add any oil to your drained noodles (see this article's first tip), and also allows the warm sauce to become absorbed by the noodles immediately.

To increase the amount of sauce your cooked noodles absorb, combine them in your cooking pot just before serving. Stir well to coat the noodles with the sauce. Cover and let steam for just a few minutes. Re-stir and serve immediately.

Add fresh herbs at the end of your recipe. Unless you’re making a rich marinara sauce from scratch that calls for a large amount of fresh basil to cook down with your Roma tomatoes, you should only add your fresh herbs at the end of cooking, when the sauce and noodles are both done. Unlike dried herbs, which release their essential oils and aromas with the help of heat and oil, fresh herbs lose their potency under high heat and longer cooking time. Add them to the end of your pasta dish and enjoy their fresh vibrancy.

Image adapted from cookbookman17, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

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