The sauce you’ve labored over all day is done. The spaghetti is cooked to al dente, as you like it. The table is set, the wine’s chilled, and all you need are your dinner guests. Who are late. Nothing’s more frustrating than a well-cooked meal that’s sitting on the sideboard waiting for someone to enjoy. But all is not lost. Keeping spaghetti warm without sticking is a trick every restaurant knows and uses ‒ every day. All it takes is a pot of hot water, a colander and your “just a bit underdone” spaghetti.
What Makes Spaghetti Sticky?
A big pot of boiling water is the first essential when making spaghetti. A gallon of water for a pound of pasta is the minimum. The more water, the less sticky your spaghetti will be. It’s all about keeping the spaghetti swirling through the water, releasing the starches and leaving those starches behind when the pasta is done. It’s the starch that makes the strands cling together.
Some recipes call for oil in the boiling water, but adding oil during or after boiling spaghetti just coats the strands and prevents the sauce from sticking to the spaghetti. A hefty amount of salt and stirring the spaghetti thoroughly in the first few minutes of cooking is all the pasta needs to eliminate sticking.
Keeping Spaghetti Warm
Italian restaurants have a steady stream of pasta to keep warm, and they have the process down pat. The spaghetti is cooked just to the point of being al dente, or “to the tooth,” in English, which means it’s just tender enough for your teeth to cut through the strand without it being mushy.
A big pot of hot water is standing by, and the right portion of cooked spaghetti is dunked into the hot water as the order comes in. The hot water separates any strands that may have stuck together. Well-heated and not at all sticky, the spaghetti is poured into the sauce, and a hot dinner is served.
Spaghetti needs to be covered with sauce before putting it into the oven to warm. Without the sauce, the spaghetti sticks and dries out. Put a portion of the well-tossed spaghetti and sauce into an oven-safe bowl. Sprinkle a little water on top, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss after 15 minutes and continue heating for about 30 minutes.
Crock Pot Spaghetti
After you’ve cooked your pasta to “almost al dente,” and quickly drained it, put it into a crock pot that’s been swabbed with either olive or vegetable oil. This keeps the pasta from sticking to the sides. Turn the heat to “warm” and add the sauce. Toss to cover the pasta and leave the crock pot on warm until you’re ready to serve.
Warming Spaghetti Slow-Cooker Style
A crock pot is a slow cooker, but not all slow cookers are crock pots. The difference is in the construction of the bowls. A crock pot has a ceramic insert, which is surrounded by heating elements within the crock pot sides. A slow cooker is a pot that sits on top of a heating element, with the heat coming up from the bottom.
Warming spaghetti in a slow cooker means paying attention to the heating temperature and stirring frequently. Prepare the spaghetti as you would for a crock pot, mix it with the sauce, and put it into the slow cooker that’s set at a low temperature. Add a drop of the spaghetti water to keep the spaghetti moist until it’s ready to serve.
A Final Trick
Moms whose kids want pasta any time of day know this trick. Cook your pasta, drain it and toss with olive oil. This should be the only time you’ll use oil on pasta. Let the pasta cool; then put it into a zippered plastic bag and refrigerate. When you’re ready to give the kiddos their dinner, warm the pasta in the sauce for perfectly al dente spaghetti and sauce.
My seventh grade English teacher didn't realize what she was unleashing when she called me her "writer," but the word crept into my brain. I DID become a writer. Of advertising copy, dialogue and long-term story for several network soap operas, magazine articles and high-calorie contents for the cookbook: Cooking: It AIn't Rocket Science, a bestseller on Amazon! When I'm not writing, I'm cooking!