Several years ago I had the honor of taking a class with a master chef who’s specialty is pasta. In true Italian form, as he tossed varying shapes of pasta with different sauces, he encouraged us to “cook to our taste.” Instead of focusing on exact measurements, he wanted us to eat, adjust, and go with the flow—except for when it came to cooking pasta. As it turns out, there is technique to cooking dried pasta correctly. Thankfully, it’s simple technique. This is how I was taught to cook pasta perfectly, even ahead of time which, by the way, is lifesaving knowledge for any busy family cook.

Related: 4 easy, semi-homemade pasta dinners that taste great and save time.

How to Cook Pasta Perfectly

How to cook pasta: Farfalle Chicken Pesto | Bev Cooks

Photo: Farfalle Chicken Pesto from Bev Cooks

1. Bring a large stockpot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Use 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 gallon of water per 1 pound of pasta (you can reduce the salt if necessary for health reasons). Do not add oil to the water.

2. Add pasta, stir, then begin to measure cooking time. Cook pasta 2-3 fewer minutes than indicated on the package for al dente pasta.

3. Drain the pasta saving about 1 cup of cooking water. If using a pot with a perforated insert, pull out the insert and use a mug to scoop some of the remaining water. If you don’t have an insert, use a mug to scoop out the pasta cooking water before dumping the contents of the pot into a colander.

Do not rinse the drained pasta.

4. Add pasta sauce to a wide, high-sided pan (if making sauce from scratch, consider making the sauce in this pan). Once the sauce is hot, add the freshly cooked and drained pasta to the pan.

5. Toss pasta to coat and then add some pasta cooking water; the starch from the cooking water will help the sauce adhere to the pasta. The amount of water that you use will vary depending on the type of sauce. Start with a few big splashes and add up to 1 full cup to achieve desired consistency.

6. Toss, toss, and toss some more until all of the pasta is coated, the flavors have come together, and the sauce is hot and exactly the consistency you want. Remove the pan from heat and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and, if you’re using it, grated Parmesan cheese.

Note: Resist the urge to add Parmesan to the mix while the pasta and sauce are still cooking. The heat will break down the proteins in the cheese and make your sauce gooey.

Related: Spectacular one-pot recipes—including two great pasta options—that everyone will love.

How to Pre-Cook Pasta

How to cook pasta perfectly, even ahead of time | Cool Mom Eats

1. Bring a large stockpot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Use 1 tablespoon of salt per 1 gallon of water per 1 pound of pasta (you can reduce the salt if necessary for health reasons). Do not add oil to the water.

2. Add pasta, stir, then begin to measure cooking time. Cook pasta for half of the time indicated on the package.

3. Drain the pasta saving about 1 cup of cooking water. If using a pot with a perforated insert, pull out the insert and use a mug to scoop some of the remaining water. If you don’t have an insert, use a mug to scoop out the pasta cooking water before dumping the contents of the pot into a colander. Store the cooking water in the refrigerator for as long as you keep the pasta, up to 5 days.

Do not rinse the drained pasta.

4. Drizzle the pasta with a little bit of olive oil, 1-2 teaspoons per pound of pasta. Toss to coat and spread the pasta in a single layer on a sheet pan to cool.

5. Once completely cooled, put the pasta in an airtight container or ziplock bag for storage in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

6. To reheat: If possible, start with a pasta sauce that’s been left a little bit runny. Add sauce to a wide, high-sided pan and, once hot, add pasta and some reserved cooking water; the starch from the cooking water will help the sauce adhere to the pasta. The amount of water that you use will vary depending on the type of sauce. Start with a few big splashes and add up to 1 full cup to achieve desired consistency.

Toss, toss, and toss some more until the pasta and sauce are heated through and your sauce is exactly the consistency you want. Remove pasta from heat and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and, if you’re using it, grated Parmesan cheese.

Note: To reheat a large amount of pasta (over 1 lb; like if you’re having a dinner party), start step 6 above by dunking pre-cooked pasta in boiling water for 30 seconds, then continue as written.