How to Properly Salt Your Pasta Water
Today: The first step towards perfect pasta? It’s all in the salt.
If you’re reading this post, most likely you know how to cook pasta. In fact, you probably know three entirely different ways to cook it. Heck, you probably know how to whip up some ravioli — from scratch. But even the most seasoned of cooks can make the cardinal mistake of under-seasoning their pasta water. We’re here to ensure that there’s enough salt in every pot.
While you can certainly throw in a a few sizeable pinches of salt and leave it at that, let’s dig a little deeper. Do you really, really have to salt your pasta water? Why? When is the right time to add the salt? And what is the optimal salt-to-water ratio?
The short answer is yes. You must salt your pasta water. Even when tossed with a flavorful bolognese or a pesto, if you haven’t salted your pasta water the entire dish will taste under-seasoned. Seasoning the pasta water is the only chance you have to flavor the pasta itself, and it’s a necessary step that shouldn’t be neglected.
In The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan had this to say about salting pasta water:
"For every pound of pasta, put in no less than 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, more if the sauce is very mild and undersalted. Add the salt when the water comes to a boil. Wait until the water returns to a full, rolling boil before putting in the pasta."
As one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine, and the woman behind this legendary tomato sauce, I tend to take Marcella Hazan at her word. But after a bit of poking around, it seems that when it comes to salting pasta water, there’s no hard-and-fast answer.
Many (including Marcella herself) claim that the salt must be added to the water only after it’s at a full boil. Others add salt to their cold water from the get-go, so they don’t have to worry about it later. If you opt to add your salt to cold water, make sure to swish it around with a spoon (or your hand) until the salt dissolves. Salt is corrosive, and could pit your pot if not dissolved before your pot hits the heat.