Don't Make This Common Mistake With Baked Pasta

Baked pasta is one of the ultimate comfort foods — tender noodles smothered in sauce and cheese with crisp edges always make for a mouthwatering meal. Making the best baked pasta, however, isn't quite as simple as cooking the noodles, mixing in your sauce, cheese, and meat, and baking it. For the most delicious baked pasta, you might actually want to skip boiling the noodles and just let them bake in the oven.

If you haven't tried it before, it might sound like a good way to end up with crunchy, undercooked pasta, but your noodles really don't need much (or any) time in boiling water to be perfectly cooked. In fact, if you boil the noodles and then bake them, they can overcook and end up mushy. According to The Detroit News, you can get around boiling the pasta (and avoid dirtying an extra pot) just by soaking the noodles in warm, salty water. This hydrates the pasta so it's not crunchy after baking, washes away some of the starch, and pre-seasons it, as long as you add salt to the water. Let the pasta soak for about 45 minutes for the best results, then drain the water and combine the noodles with your other ingredients before baking.

Other tips for the best baked pasta

Soaking your pasta means you don't have to monitor it on the stove, but it does take a little longer than boiling for a few minutes. If you don't have time to wait for the pasta to soak, you can still boil the noodles; you just want to keep a close eye on them. According to Bon Appetit, if you're going to boil your pasta before baking it, you want to majorly under-cook it. Boiling it for just five minutes or so will hydrate the noodles enough that they'll cook in the oven, but it won't leave you with limp, mushy pasta after baking. Make sure the pasta is still almost raw when you drain it, and it'll come out of the oven perfectly cooked.

Whichever method you choose, just make sure the pasta isn't completely cooked when you put it in the oven. That'll leave you with overcooked mush instead of the tender, slightly crisp noodles everyone craves. Whether you decide to boil the pasta for just a few minutes or soak it while you prep the rest of the ingredients, a quick dip in salted water is the key to perfect baked pasta.