Instructions for Making the Best Spaghetti

Recipe by Layla Khoury-Hanold, originally published on Food Network Kitchen

As a member of the Food Network team, Layla Khoury-Hanold shares her expertise with viewers.

Dry Italian spaghetti has the shape of a long, solid string. It's the cornerstone of many pasta staples, including spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti cacio e pepe, and spaghetti aglio e olio. It's also great to have on hand for a quick and cheap pasta dinner on the fly. Because of its mild flavor, it can be combined with a wide variety of ingredients, including store-bought sauces, vegetables from the fridge, or even just olive oil and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Even though spaghetti can be made in a snap, there are a few rules to follow to ensure perfectly cooked and flavorful strands every time. We've compiled our best spaghetti-cooking advice and instructions below. And if you're in the mood for meatballs, check out our article on the subject.

What you'll need for spaghetti is:


  • Because the strands will expand in the cooking process, you'll need a pot that's at least 6 quarts in capacity.
  • Stirring or retrieving noodles requires a long-handled spoon or tongs.
  • Noodles can be drained in a colander, sieve, or skimmer (spider).


  • Dry Spaghetti, 12 ounces
  • Four quarts' worth of water
  • A Tablespoon of Salt

Perfect spaghetti is easy to achieve if you follow the steps in this classic recipe for Simple Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce.

  1. Bring 4 to 6 quarts water and 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a 6-quart pot.
  2. To the boiling water, add 12 ounces of dry spaghetti and stir to separate noodles and prevent sticking.
  3. Spaghetti should be cooked uncovered for the full amount of time specified on the package, with the check for doneness beginning 2 minutes before the al dente time.
  4. Strain spaghetti but save up to a cup of the cooking liquid for later use in the sauce.
  5. Once the spaghetti is done cooking, add it to the sauce along with a small amount of the cooking water and toss to coat. If more cooking water is needed, add it at this point.

An average serving size of dried spaghetti is 2 ounces. You might want to serve 3–4 ounces per person, depending on how filling the sauce or toppings are or if this is a main course.

If you want flavorful spaghetti, you must salt the water. One tablespoon of salt for every four quarts of water is a good rule of thumb for achieving the desired saltiness. To cook pasta, you'll need between four and six quarts of water for every pound. If taking measurements isn't your thing, you can always The water, as a general rule, should have an oceanic flavor.

For specific instructions, please refer to the product's packaging. In general, you should allocate between eight and twelve minutes. A strand can be pulled out at any time and tasted to determine doneness.

  • Add salt to the water you'll be using to cook with, at a ratio of 1 tablespoon per 4 quarts. Spaghetti softens and is seasoned as it cooks because the noodles absorb the water and the salt that has been dissolved in it.
  • Prepare an early check for doneness by consulting the cooking time recommendations on the package before beginning to cook. There needs to be a setting for al dente noodles, which retain a slight firmness after cooking. Pasta should be removed from the heat two minutes before it is supposed to be al dente to prevent it from becoming overcooked. Noodles will continue to cook in the sauce after being tossed in it and tossed back and forth on the stove.
  • Don't pour out the starchy cooking water; it's worth its weight in gold for thickening and glossing up sauces of all kinds. In addition to its emulsifying properties, it can be used to adjust the thickness of sauces like pesto and alfredo.
  • Substitute tossing the noodles directly into the sauce for ladling it on top. For a more flavorful bite, do this so the sauce adheres to the noodles and the noodles can soak up the sauce.
  • Don't throw away those extra noodles just yet; plain spaghetti is versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. For example, you can toss it with a different sauce or some leftover roasted vegetables to make a Spaghetti Carbonara, toss it with some dressing and some pantry staples to make an Antipasto Pasta Salad, or make a comforting casserole dish like Baked Spaghetti or Skillet Spaghetti Casserole.
  • As an alternative to boiling the spaghetti before adding the sauce, try a one-pot spaghetti dish. One-Pot Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce is a crowd-pleaser that's both nutritious and simple to make.


Spaghetti is a versatile base that can be dressed up in countless ways with a wide variety of toppings. Add cooked bacon, shrimp, or even a handful of baby spinach to a basic tomato sauce for a tasty finish. Ina Garten's Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara (shown above) is made with cream, peas, asparagus, and pancetta. Modify the dish by adding some pesto, marinara, or ricotta from a jar, or top it with freshly grated Parmesan, baby burrata, or ricotta dollops. To spice up your dishes, try incorporating crunchy elements like toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted walnuts, crushed pistachios, or buttery pine nuts.

To whip up a gourmet spaghetti dinner in a flash, keep jars of roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, artichoke hearts, olives, and capers in your pantry at all times. Incorporating chili crisp into spaghetti-style Dan-Dan Noodles, peanut sauce into a Thai-style cold noodle salad, or oyster sauce into Spicy Tofu and Vegetable Lo Mein are just a few examples of how you can play around with different global pantry ingredients.

Marinara-Sauced Spaghetti That Can Be Prepared in a Hurry

Tossing together this simple spaghetti dinner takes just 20 minutes of your time. While the noodles are cooking, a vibrant sauce made from canned tomatoes and their juices is blended and then heated in oil. Noodles are tossed and coated in the warm sauce and then finished with salt, pepper, and Parmesan.

2015 Copyright Matt Armendariz.

Cacio e Pepe Pasta, Ready in Just One Pan

A few staples and 30 minutes are all you need to make this warm and satisfying dish. All you need is dry spaghetti, olive oil, butter, black pepper, and freshly grated Parmesan. Be sure to remove the noodles from the heat before they reach al dente because they will continue cooking in the sauce. Please save the pasta water before discarding it. The pasta is coated in a glossy, luxurious sauce made possible by the starchy cooking liquid, which emulsifies the butter, oil, and cheese.

Aglio e Olio is the Italian phrase for spaghetti with oil and garlic.

Pasta is cooked to al dente and then tossed in a pan with a savory mixture of fried garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper, and a generous helping of starchy cooking liquid. The dish gets a double dose of brightness from the parsley and lemon zest, and a burst of flavor from the freshly grated Parmesan.

Pasta with Zucchini and Lemon Sauce

While zucchini is at its peak in the summer, you'll want to make this luminous spaghetti dish whenever the zucchini is in season. In this dish, spaghetti and zucchini noodles cooked with lemon zest and red pepper flakes are combined. Blending together the cooking water that was set aside, some fresh lemon juice, and a full cup of grated Parmesan cheese yields the sauce.

Food Network, G, Matt Armendariz, 2013, Television. P Discretion Is Exercised In Reserving All Rights

Spaghetti with a pesto made from pistachios and kale

Upgrade your typical pesto pasta dish with this savory and earthy twist. A healthy kale and pistachio pesto can be thrown together in a food processor in the time it takes for whole wheat spaghetti to cook. The pesto is the perfect sauce-to-noodles ratio because the starchy cooking water helps to loosen the pesto.

Contextual Links:

Recipes for Delicious Spaghetti That You'll Want to Make Over and Over

Best Pasta Dishes, Ranked

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