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When I cook pasta I usually drain all the water and keep about a cup of pasta water so I could loosen up a sticky pasta or bulk up a sauce. But spaghettini or capellini is too thin so it breaks up into small pieces when I try to take some out of the colander with my tongs.

My solution was to pour all the pasta water into a pot with the capellini but after a while the pasta became too soaked and it lost it's el dente bite.

How do you both keep pasta in a non sticky, ready to serve state yet don't lose the bite?

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    Can you edit your question to explain why your pasta is cooked before you're ready to use it? I've answered the question saying that you should do a better job of timing your cooking but if there's a reason you must cook your pasta early, it may make my answer unuseful... please give us a bit more information. – Catija Mar 1 '16 at 16:27
  • @catija It's not about cooking pasta early. Ex: I cook capellini el dente and drain it to the colander. 5 minutes pass and when I try to take some capellini to the plate it rips apart to little pieces. I want to know how to prevent it from happening. – Bar Akiva Mar 1 '16 at 17:43
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    You don't. Drain, plate, eat. Cook the pasta last. Rule of thumb: sauce and guests wait for the pasta, not the other way round. – Stephie Mar 1 '16 at 17:54
  • It clearly is about cooking it early... you're cooking it five minutes early. As Stephie says... you don't make the pasta wait if you want a good quality pasta dish. – Catija Mar 1 '16 at 18:41
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    The answer is to not cook capellini -- it's a pain. For all others, see cooking.stackexchange.com/q/43353/67 – Joe Mar 1 '16 at 18:54
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The true aficionado would claim that you actually don't store cooked pasta, but for those cases where this isn't viable, you have a few options:

  1. Pasta that will be cooled and re-heated later, e.g. left overs
    Drain well, cool, refrigerate. The pasta will stick, but you can dump it in hot salted water foe a bit to re-heat where it will unstick again. Not perfectly al dente, but probably ok. (Slightly undercooking pasta can mitigate this a bit.)

  2. Pasta that should stay warm, e.g. on a buffet
    Add a bit of fat (olive oil, butter...) to coat your pasta. Keeps it from sticking. Critics claim that it also keeps the sauce from sticking to the pasta. Adding the sauce can have a similar effect, but you risk soggy pasta.

  3. Pasta that should stay cold, e.g. pasta salad
    The only case where rinsing pasta is kind of allowed. Side effect: cool pasta (well drained after rinsing) can be mixed even with heat-sensitive dressings right away, avoiding stickiness issues again.

  • You can actually steam pasta to reheat it if it wasn't sauced. It won't end up quite so overcooked. – Joe Mar 1 '16 at 18:55
  • @joe But steaming sometimes doesn't loosen the really stuck pasta types. Otherwise, yes, steaming is good too. – Stephie Mar 1 '16 at 18:56
  • a little bit of oil or butter before storing will help prevent it (even if that might cause problems w/ sauce later). If it's stuck too much, there's nothing you can really do as it's just a clump. (and the way to get around that is to intentionally undercook it so it doesn't get to be sticky) – Joe Mar 1 '16 at 18:59
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For me, it's a matter of timing. I don't consider pasta stable enough to let it sit. It will either keep cooking and turn to mush or it will stick together in one giant mass of starch... particularly if you're using fine pasta like capellini.

I do not cook pasta until I know I'm 10 minutes away from serving (unless the pasta is being baked after being cooked). I keep the water on a soft boil and when the sauce is ready and the diners are ready, I crank up the heat to full, add the salt and pasta, cook until slightly firmer than al dente, drain and toss with sauce immediately. I don't rinse or toss in oil.

I like to let the pasta cook in the sauce briefly (a minute or so) as it allows the pasta to absorb some of the flavors from the sauce, which is why I take it out before it's al dente. When the pasta is my preferred doneness, I plate and serve.

Getting the timing right can take a bit of work but if you use the same brand of pasta every time, you can learn how long each shape/thickness takes and you know when to start it. Most of the time, your sauce is going to be more stable than the pasta, so if the sauce has to simmer for 5-10 minutes while the pasta cooks, it's generally not an issue. Depending on the sauce, you can usually add a couple tablespoons of pasta water if it starts to get too thick.

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My rules of thumb for storing pasta are as follows (I always cook the whole pound, so we always store what's not eaten that night):

  • Cooking al dente is a skill. Sometimes I cook it too firm, and the wife lets me know (I still like it). However firm you can take it, go firmer

  • After rinsing with cool water, drain, and drizzle with olive oil. Toss the colander to disperse the oil. I also add a titch of black pepper. Then, while you serve, you can cover the colander with the lid that was covering the pasta pot

  • Place only the pasta in good tupperware. That's it. Good for days.

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