The Biggest Pasta Mistake You're Making, According To Giada De Laurentiis

If you were going to pick one Food Network star to train you in the art of pasta, you'd likely choose Giada De Laurentiis. The Italian chef, long-time Food Network host, and recipe creator has a pretty impressive resume and her specialty is all-things Italian. The woman knows her pasta. In an article from Williams Sonoma promoting her brand of pasta sauces (which you can purchase at Williams Sonoma), De Laurentiis breaks down the most basic rules for making pasta and answers the question, "What's the biggest mistake you see home cooks do when making pasta?"

Her reply? "Not saving their pasta water! It's easy to forget when you drain your boiled pasta in the sink, but you should always set aside a half cup or so. That starchy water helps your sauce come together." It's a rule you've likely heard before, but as De Laurentiis points out, it's easy to forget when you're trying to safely drain a boiling-hot pot of water. 

Science backs the rule up, as a Smithsonian Magazine article (which quotes De Laurentiis, as well as other pasta experts) attests. As the pasta cooks, it releases starch into the cooking water and that starch will help your pasta sauce thicken faster, while also helping your pasta sauce actually stick to your noodles. Beyond this, if you rinse your pasta after draining it, that will remove some of the residual starch, which will inhibit all of the above. When it comes to pasta, starch = good.

What are Giada's other top rules for pasta?

Beyond revealing the biggest crime home cooks commit when making pasta, Giada De Laurentiis also told Williams Sonoma her five "unbreakable" pasta rules. These include cooking your pasta to al dente (the pasta should still have a bit of firmness to it); simmering the sauce before combining it with the pasta; adding the pasta to the sauce versus adding the sauce to the pasta; adding the cheese to the pasta before adding the pasta to the sauce (this ensures a more even distribution of your cheese, meaning more cheese in every bite, which is always a good thing); and, of course, adding a cup of that holy grail pasta water to the sauce — about a quarter to half a cup.

Are there ever times when you shouldn't add your pasta water to your pasta sauce? According to Martha Stewart, another outlet that agrees that pasta water is one of the keys to excellent pasta dishes, certain sauces, including bolognese and marinara, don't necessarily need extra pasta water. However, if you ever find either of these two sauces is too thick, you can add some pasta water until you reach your desired consistency.