How to Make Better Store-Bought Pasta

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By Elizabeth Gunnison

Not so long ago in Esquire, Nick Anderer of New York City's Maialino talked about the critical role that pasta cookery plays in achieving an exceptional pork Bolognese. And here's the thing, to speak more broadly: Most of you are cooking your pasta wrong. Dead-wrong. You may not realize it, but it's true. And this greatly decreases the deliciousness of any given pasta dish, whether you're attempting a from-scratch sauce like that aforementioned Bolognese or simply heating and eating something from a jar.

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Expanding on Anderer's spaghetti-cooking dictum, here's a brief primer on very easy ways to get the most from store-bought pasta, which is what people are generally cooking in their home kitchens on a given night. They will greatly enhance said kitchen output.

First, buy good pasta. The texture and flavor of dried pastas vary significantly from brand to brand, and it's really worth getting the best available option. Rustichella D'Abruzzo is a cut above your normal supermarket fare, and is available at better grocers and gourmet stores. Trader Joe's house brand earns high marks from chefs. And as far as standard supermarket options go, De Cecco is my favorite of the bunch.

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Salt your water. And I mean really salt your water. None of this "pinch" business. Salt amplifies flavor, so allowing pasta to rehydrate in a briney solution will mean that the noodles themselves are properly seasoned - something that you can't achieve by just sprinkling salt on already-cooked pasta. As a rule of thumb, your pasta water should be as salty as seawater.

Finish the pasta in the sauce. If you typically drain your pasta in the sink and then top it with sauce, there's a better way. Finish cooking the pasta by simmering it in your sauce of choice, which allows it to absorb some of the sauce's liquid and thus soak up even more flavor.

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Harness the power of pasta water. There's nothing worse than sauce that slips off your spaghetti and ends up in a pile at the bottom of the bowl. How to prevent this? Add pasta water to your sauce along with the noodles. The starch that leeches into the water while pasta cooks does a great job of helping a sauce cling to the noodles' surface.

Finish with fat. Adding a knob of butter, a splash of oil, and a dash of shaved cheese into your sauce right before serving it will help even further bind noodles to their sauce. The fat infusion also amps up flavor, and lends your sauce that luxurious mouthfeel that you typically only get at your better Italian restaurants.

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Photo credit: Matt McClain for The Washington Post via Getty Images

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