Nine Ways Youre Cooking Pasta Wrong

Missy Robbins.
Photographer: Evan Sung

In 2017, Italy landed the No. 1 spot on the Bloomberg Global Health Index . Eating all that pasta pays off.

If there’ s a chef in the U. S. who can offer advice on the subject, it’ s Missy Robbins of Lilia in Brooklyn’ s Williamsburg neighborhood. Bloomberg pronounced the restaurant a “ pasta destination” in a 2016 review   after it opened. Lilia has earned praise from  David Solomon, Goldman Sachs’ s next chief executive officer,   and has lured Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. In her 2017 cookbook, (Rizzoli), Robbins divulges some of her favorite recipes , from 30 (garlic) clove sauce to fettuccine with butter and truffles.  

As Robbins has mastered the art of pasta cooking, she’ s become  militant about the steps that go into creating a perfect bowl (and occasional plate) of the stuff. Here’ s her advice on where you may be going  wrong when you do it.

1. You  use  a small  pot.

“ Even if it looks way too big, grab a large pot, ” Robbins says. “ And add more water than you think you need. There should be enough space for the pasta to move around so that it cooks evenly in water that’ s at a rolling boil. If it looks like your pasta is crammed in a hot bathtub of simmering water, you were too skimpy with your pot and your water. And remember that heavily salted water is essential. ”

2. You add  oil to your cooking water.

“ Here’ s the short reason why: It prevents sauce from sticking to the pasta. It’ s basically like adding a raincoat to whatever shape you’ re using, which is not what you want in a finished dish. ”

Robbins’ s simple tomato sauce.
Photographer: Evan Sung

3. You grab  a colander.

“ If you’ re draining your pasta in a colander in the sink, you’ re  losing  all the cooking water— and that water is an important ingredient for a great dish. Some pots have a basket insert, which is a larger version of the pasta baskets we use in restaurants. You can also buy one separately. Alternately, you can remove pasta from the pot with tongs for long shapes or a spider or large slotted spoon for small ones. Just remember to work fast as you extract the pasta from the water. ”

4. You discriminate  against the classics.

“ Buying expensive artisanal pasta in eye-catching shapes isn’ t essential to making a delicious dish. I happen to love the De Cecco brand— it cooks evenly, has good flavor and consistent quality. Whatever brand works for you, use it. ”

The dining room at Lilia.
Photographer: Evan Sung

5. You pour  sauce on top.

“ You’ ve seen those images on jars of someone pouring sauce onto a mountain of pasta: They are completely wrong. If you’ re serving a sauced pasta, you should always add the pasta to a pan of sauce and finish cooking it there. These last few minutes are crucial: They ensure that the pasta absorbs more flavor. Allow for that additional time by undercooking your pasta a little bit in the boiling water. And add spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water you reserved to the sauce as you stir the pasta; it will be a little bit thick from the starch of the pasta and help thicken and flavor the sauce. ”  

6. And you use too much sauce.

“ You don’ t want your pasta that you’ ve cooked so carefully to be swimming in a pool of sauce, no matter how tasty that sauce is. Allow for 1 ½ to 2 cups of sauce per pound of pasta. There should be next to nothing in your bowl or on the plate when you serve it. ”

The pink peppercorn from Lilia.
Photographer: Evan Sung

7.   You believe pasta belongs on a plate.

“ I use bowls to serve almost all pastas, from long strands of spaghetti, fettuccine, and to short shapes like rigatoni and gnocchi.   Pasta is more comfortable in a bowl, it’ s more fun to eat, and there’ s less chance of cooling down quickly. The exceptions to my rule are flat-bottomed pasta, namely ravioli but also varieties like the coin-shaped, which can get broken up if they’ re jumbled in a bowl. ”

8. You think pasta is just for cold weather .

“ Not all pasta sauces need to simmer. Case in point:   One of my favorite recipes in the  book is  a no-cook cherry tomato sauce, which works any time you’ ve got decent little tomatoes. If you like garlic (I’ m raising my hand), spring is the best time to make a sauce with it. Use spring garlic, scapes [the flowering green stalks], along with regular garlic— a celebration of garlic, if you will.   It adds so much more depth than just regular garlic. ”

9. You throw out the leftovers.

“ Almost any leftover pasta, with the exception of stuffed ones, can have a second life as a very delicious frittata or baked dish. Add a few beaten eggs, a lot of grated cheese, and any other ingredients that sound tasty such as  cooked sausage and bake in a 350F oven in a baking dish or heatproof skillet. ”