For More Flavorful Pasta, Toast Your Uncooked Spaghetti

Blond pastas don’t have more fun.

Published Oct. 18, 2021.

We all have those meals from our childhoods that we recall with fond nostalgia—the dishes that smell, taste, and feel like home. For me, that’s spag bol.

(Before you go web surfing to discover what dish I’m talking about, I’ll spare you the time and apologize for my homegrown "Australianism"—I’m talking about spaghetti Bolognese, which is more of a thrown-together weeknight meal versus the long-cooked, Sunday dinner that it is in the States.)

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I have no doubt that this quick and simple staple is a familiar comfort to many, and yet, as a home cook who relishes the simple tricks that make my life in the kitchen more delicious, I credit it with something else as well: the simple yet revolutionary technique of toasting uncooked pasta.

Actually that’s unfair, because the credit should really go to my mom. I didn’t grow up in a household that valued ostentatious cooking; meat and three veg, simple stir fries, and one-pot pastas were our go-to dinners, and that suited us just fine. But it turns out that I never gave my mom the recognition she deserved, because embedded in these simple staples were the techniques that she used to elevate them—one of which is simply toasting your uncooked pasta. The result is a far more flavorful meal, turning the spaghetti into more than just a conduit for the sauce, but a contender for highlight of the dish in its own right.

Sopa SecaFideos with Shrimp and FennelToasted Orzo with Peas and Mint
The power of toasting pasta is on display in these three delicious recipes.

How to Toast Pasta

Chefs have long been using this simple technique to enhance the rich, nutty flavor of their pasta dishes. It’s one of the tricks that we use in our Five-Ingredients Dinners cookbook to elevate weeknight meals. It gives deeper flavor to two classic Spanish dishes, Sopa Seca and Fideos with Shrimp and Fennel, where the pasta is toasted on the stovetop. The Cook’s Country test cooks also employed it for their Orzo with Peas and Mint recipe, which first browns the orzo in a skillet. 

If you’re looking to try it (and I think you should!), here’s how to do it.

  • IN THE OVEN (my mom's technique for her home-cooked spag bol): Spread spaghetti out on baking sheet and slide it into oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees before cooking.
  • IN THE MICROWAVE: Toss 8 ounces pasta and 2 teaspoons oil in bowl and microwave at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until some pieces look toasted and blistered, 3 to 5 minutes.
    • For pasta: Break 8 ounces pasta into 1- to 2-inch lengths. Toss pasta and 2 teaspoons oil in 12-inch skillet until pasta is evenly coated. Toast pasta over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned and releases nutty aroma (it should be color of peanut butter), 6 to 10 minutes. 
    • For couscous: Heat 1 tablespoon oil and couscous in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until about half of grains are golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes.
    • For orzo: Toast orzo in large skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 8 minutes.

In a way, this technique is so typical of my mom: unassuming, perhaps, at first. Un-ostentatious. But a single, seemingly simple move can make even the most fundamental experience richer and more enjoyable. And shouldn’t every nostalgic childhood meal feel like that?

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