How not to cook pasta

Illustration of various pasta ingredients over a pale tile background, by Keira Lee
Keira Lee/File

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As someone who doesn’t cook a lot, I debated about what to make my family for Father’s Day last month. After turning to YouTube for recommendations, I settled on making pasta as it seemed both quick and easy. However, my supposed-to-be-glorious dinner ended up being inconsumable for my entire family. My attempt at being a better daughter became a warning for my family to maybe not eat my culinary creations for a bit. After reflecting and experimenting the past two weeks, here’s how not to cook pasta.

Using incorrect ingredients

My cooking motto usually goes something like this: Estimate approximate ingredients, and you can replace basically anything. While this plan worked for most Asian cuisines either due to my kitchen already having necessary ingredients or just out of pure luck, I learned that I probably shouldn’t use it for making pasta.

In my rendition, pasta al limone’s classic ingredients of heavy cream and parmesan cheese became low-fat milk and cheese powder packets from Pizza Hut. Needless to say, they definitely didn’t work. On top of that, I added too much lemon zest and lemon juice — causing the sauce to turn out more liquified and with a funky flavor. There’s nothing like the refreshing and creamy sauce it should have been.

So if you’re an amateur cook like me, please don’t do what I did and just take the time to get what the recipes call for. 

Reusing the pasta water

Almost every cooking video on pasta that I watched emphasized the need to heavily salt the pasta’s cooking water, so I really thought there was no way this could go south — but boy was I wrong. While the first batch of pasta noodles tasted fine, I realized it didn’t cook enough and ended up taking out some more spaghetti. However, there was still a lot of cooking water left that I didn’t want to  go to waste. Genius me decided to heavily salt the water again and reuse it for cooking the second batch of noodles, and they turned out extremely salty.

While I tried to save it by adding sugar after straining, it was ultimately a lost cause. Unfortunately, the pasta couldn’t be saved. Please don’t do this and save yourself from wasting pasta by either measuring out the servings beforehand or using fresh water if you need to make more!

Over-cooking the pasta

Although not as catastrophic as the previous two, I made the rookie mistake of over-cooking the pasta. While I did follow the packet instructions of only cooking for 10 minutes to achieve pasta al dente, I didn’t account for the fact that the pasta would still cook when I tossed it in with the pasta sauce. As a result, my pasta was soggy and mushy once plated — the exact opposite of what it should have been. 

To prevent this from happening to you, I would recommend cooking the noodles about one minute less than the packet calls for to get pasta perfection!

Voila — that’s how not to cook your pasta! Cooking sometimes takes some trial and error, so fear not if these mistakes have happened to you too.

Contact Erica Jean at [email protected].