100 Techniques

Technique #50: Cook Pasta in Its Sauce for Infused Flavor

This trick flavors pasta from the inside out.

Published Sept. 12, 2023.

This is Technique #50 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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We’re often tempted to think of dried pasta as simply a vehicle for its flavorful sauce. But too often the sauce slides right off and pools at the bottom of the bowl.

What about really infusing and integrating the pasta with the flavor of the sauce?

Parboil the Pasta

In Italy, one of the oldest pasta-cooking tricks in the book involves parboiling the pasta in water until it’s shy of al dente, draining it, and then simmering it directly in the sauce to finish cooking.

While al dente means “to the tooth,” this parcooked stage—where the pasta is still a bit stiff—is called al chiodo, or “to the nail.”

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Benefits of Finishing Pasta in the Sauce

Finishing the pasta in the sauce not only allows the neutral-tasting pasta to absorb some of the sauce and its flavor, but it also makes the sauce viscous enough to cling to the pasta, as the starches the pasta sheds during the cooking process thicken the sauce.

This method works especially well with thin pasta sauces, such as those with broth or wine as a base (although it definitely also works with your typical heat-and-eat marinara). You can use it with any shape of pasta, and you can finish the cooking process either in the pasta pot or in the sauce pot.

No matter what type of sauce you are making, you should always reserve some of the pasta cooking water to adjust the consistency of the finished sauce to your liking.

Treat Pasta Like Risotto

A related way to cook pasta right in its sauce is to borrow from the risotto playbook. Parcook the pasta, drain and add it back to its pot, and then add small amounts of a seasoned liquid (typically either wine or broth) in increments, as with risotto, and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed and the pasta is glossy—almost glazed—and al dente.

This leads to complex, richly infused flavor in the finished dish.

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Step By Step: How to Cook Pasta in Its Sauce

For our guest-worthy mixed shellfish linguine, we started the sauce in a Dutch oven, parcooked the linguine in a separate pot, and added the drained pasta to the Dutch oven to finish in the sauce.

Step 1: Start to Create Your Sauce

Create flavorful sauce base for pasta. Here, cooking several kinds of shellfish in stages leaves you with potent, briny broth.

Step 2: Reduce and Finish Sauce

Add remaining sauce ingredients to pot and simmer, stirring gently, until they break down and sauce is reduced.

Step 3: Add Parboiled Pasta

Add parboiled pasta to pot (it should be flexible but not fully cooked). Simmer in sauce mixture, stirring gently, until al dente.

Step 4: Toss Everything and Serve

Combine all ingredients in pot. Adjust consistency of sauce to your liking with reserved pasta cooking water. Toss with tongs to combine everything before serving.

Watch Cook’s Illustrated’s Steve Dunn demonstrate how to make Spaghetti All’Assassina.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Ready to cook or finish pasta in its sauce? Try it with these recipes.


Linguine with Seafood (Linguine allo Scoglio)

No matter how much shellfish you pack into the pot, the pasta in dishes such as linguine allo scoglio often doesn’t taste at all like the sea. We wanted to change that.
Get the Recipe

Spaghetti al Vino Bianco

We’d heard about pasta cooked in red wine, but its tannic flavor and gray color left us cold. Could white wine come to the rescue?
Get the Recipe

Spaghetti All'Assassina

Making spaghetti all’assassina requires patience and bravery—and a blatant disregard of the rules.
Get the Recipe

Grown-Up Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

Inspired by an innovative macaroni and cheese recipe that calls for adding sodium citrate, an emulsifying salt, to cheese to keep it smooth when heated (instead of adding flour to make a béchamel), we based our sauce on American cheese, which contains a similar ingredient.
Get the Recipe

Skillet Lasagna

Our goal was to transform traditional baked lasagna into a stovetop skillet dish without losing any of its flavor or appeal.
Get the Recipe

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