You were making your signature chicken alfredo when you decided to say, “screw it” and dump the whole box of fettuccine into the pot. But as always, cooking with your stomach leaves you with a ton of leftovers that tend to get tough and sticky in the fridge. Can you freeze cooked pasta instead for future devouring? The answer is yes. Here’s how to do it the right way.
How to Freeze Cooked Pasta
From penne to spaghetti to elbows, just about any cooked pasta can be frozen for later enjoyment. You can freeze a whole batch or pre-portion single servings for easy thawing come dinnertime. Sure, you could let your pasta chill in the fridge instead to eat in three to five days, provided you toss it in olive oil, let it cool before chilling and then dump it in boiling water for a few seconds before eating. But freezing tends to be more foolproof (we’ve all been burned by freakishly-textured refrigerator noodles, right?) and ensures you have delicious carbs ready-to-go for months ahead.
Below are step-by-step instructions on freezing plain cooked pasta. If you’ve already combined your pasta leftovers with sauce, feel free to freeze them together, ideally in an oven- or microwave-safe dish for easy heating later on. If you haven’t combined them, freeze the pasta and sauce separately. And FYI, there’s really no point in ever freezing uncooked pasta because it’s shelf-stable, meaning it’s essentially non-perishable and won’t go bad hanging in the pantry, according to the USDA.
Cook the pasta and remove it just before it reaches al dente (meaning heated throughout but firm when bitten). This ensures that the pasta will be able to withstand thawing or baking without turning to mush or falling apart. Undercook it a little more if you’re going to be adding it to something like lasagna, casserole or baked mac and cheese.
Let the pasta cool completely before freezing it. Tossing it in a bit of olive oil while it’s still warm will keep long noodles and short pasta alike from sticking or clumping together. If you’re working with fresh pasta instead of the store-bought boxed stuff, toss it in flour rather than oil after it’s dried for an hour or so. Cook’s Illustrated tried this method out and found that the homemade pasta kept for up to four weeks in the freezer without any signs of oxidation.
Arrange the pasta on a baking sheet or plate once it’s cool. Place short pastas like ziti or rigatoni in a single layer. Long noodles like spaghetti or angel hair can be piled into small, fist-sized nests instead, then arranged in a single layer. Transfer the baking sheet or plate to the freezer.
Once fully frozen, transfer the pasta to a reusable container or freezer-safe bag.
How to Thaw Frozen Pasta
Cooked boxed pasta can last in the freezer for up to three months if cooked and frozen properly. Here’s how to zap it back to life in time for a last-minute dinner.
Transfer the pasta to the fridge to slowly thaw, just like you would with meat. Pressed for time? It’s OK to skip this step. Frozen pasta can be thawed in a hurry by being dumped into a pot of boiling water or hot sauce.
Boil a pot of water once the pasta has thawed. You can finish heating the pasta in a pot of sauce instead of water too (try our any-green pesto recipe on for size if you have sad-looking leafy greens in the fridge), not to mention in a Crock-Pot recipe, casserole or soup you’ve already pulled together. If you’re really short on time, you can microwave the pasta instead and skip the stove altogether. Just be sure the pasta is resting flat in the microwave so that all the pieces can heat evenly.
Add the pasta to the pot or prepared recipe. Because it was once cooked, it won’t take as long to become soft again and heated throughout. Keep a close eye on the pasta to make sure it doesn’t turn mushy.