There are two ways to serve cooked pasta, hot or cold. The tricky part for warm pasta is how to keep the pasta warm or, after it cools, how to reheat it.
The trick is keeping the pasta warm without drying and preventing it from becoming sticky. Pasta is a starch made from flour, and the proteins stick together once they cool.
Reconstituting cooled pasta is a straightforward process.
As a professional saucier, which is a fancy term for a sauté cook, I have cooked thousands of pasta dishes. What I’ve learned is that this is not a complicated process.
So, how does one keep the pasta warm until serving time, and how does one reheat it? The secret to reheating pasta is a little oil, slow heat, and stirring it.
Pasta with sauce reheats differently than undressed pasta, and there are different warming methods for each. The reheating techniques also vary depending on the type of sauce.
The easiest way to reheat pasta is with a crockpot, but double boilers, ovens, microwaves, and chafing dishes can keep pasta warm or reheat pasta.
Below, we list the 6 best ways to keep pasta warm and tips on reheating pasta.
How to Keep Pasta Warm After You’ve Cooked It
The Best Way to Keep Pasta Warm: Crock Pot
Crock pots, also known as slow cookers, do just that: they cook slowly by simmering food at low temperatures. The benefit of reheating pasta or keeping pasta warm in a crockpot is that it slowly returns to the proper temperature without drying it out or scorching it.
If the pasta is undressed, place the pasta in the crock pot, add a little butter so the pasta doesn’t stick, and set to "warm." If the pasta is in sauce, simply pour the pasta into the crock pot and set to "warm." This method reheats the pasta in 15-20 minutes.
The Easiest Way to Keep Pasta Warm: Double Boiler
A double boiler is a large pot, halfway filled with simmering water, with a smaller vessel placed on top of it. The pasta goes in the top vessel and cooks by steam.
This is an ideal way to keep pasta warm, as it adds additional moisture, which prevents the pasta from drying out. The pasta needs to be covered so that the moisture doesn’t escape.
Throughout the reheating process, stir the pasta occasionally to keep the noodles from sticking and to distribute the heat evenly. For additional flavor, butter can be added to undressed pasta.
This method works well with dressed or undressed pasta.
The sauce on dressed pasta will slowly heat up and heat the pasta evenly. If this method is used for keeping pasta warm, the water temperature can be turned down after it starts to simmer.
The oven method is best to use for dressed pasta. When pasta is being reheated, the sauce provides a coating that insulates the noodles. The oven uses dry heat, which drys out uncoated pasta.
To reheat the cooked pasta, place the pasta in an oven-safe dish and cover the top of the dish with aluminum foil. Preheat the oven to 225°F.
Once the oven is preheated, place the dish on the middle rack and warm the pasta for 10-15 minutes, stirring the pasta once midway through.
To keep the pasta warm, set the oven temperature to its lowest setting, usually 170°F. Place the pasta in an oven-safe dish and place it on the center rack.
The pasta will be warm within 10 minutes, and the oven can be turned off. The aluminum foil on the top of the dish will keep the pasta warm.
Chafing dishes are generally used in buffet-style settings. They are placed in a rack with a water pan, fuel, fuel holder, and a lid.
The pan is filled halfway with water, and the pasta stays warm using the steam method, similar to the double boiler method. This method is best for keeping pasta warm, not for reheating it. This method is simply too slow to reheat pasta efficiently. Chafing dishes are also best for dressed pasta, as the heat will dry out undressed pasta.
Undressed pasta can be kept warm in a chafing dish as long as a little olive oil is drizzled over it. The oil coats the noodles and prevents them from sticking or drying out. The pasta needs a lid when not being served, as the lid traps the heat.
Hold Warm in Sauce
The easiest way to keep dressed pasta warm is by allowing its sauce to do the job. If the pasta is not served for some time, it should be cooked only halfway through so it does not overcook. If the sauce is thick (spaghetti sauce), the sauce should be thinned with water.
To use this method, cook the sauce separately from the pasta on the stovetop. Once the sauce is cooked, lower the stovetop setting to low. Place the half-cooked pasta into the sauce and let it simmer on low until it is al dente.
Undressed Pasta vs. Pasta With Sauce
While pasta can be kept in sauce to keep it warm, adding it to the hot sauce is better. That way, the pasta won't get soggy. Reheating dressed pasta is faster than keeping it warm, and it doesn’t matter if the pasta is already mixed with sauce.
If, for example, spaghetti is being made, the sauce should be kept warm, and about 5 minutes before it's served, the pasta should be added to the sauce to heat it up. Stir the spaghetti a few times for even heat distribution. Doing this step fairly quickly will ensure the pasta remains al dente.
How to Reheat Your Pasta
The best way to reheat undressed pasta is to place it in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. This method adds moisture and is the most natural way for the pasta to cook.
However, this method does not work for dressed pasta because the sauce will end up in the water, and the plate will end up with a discolored and flavorless mess.
So, what is the best way to reheat dressed pasta? As touched upon earlier, it depends on the sauce.
A microwave is a good option if it's a creamy sauce, such as cheese or alfredo. Place the dressed pasta in a microwave-safe bowl and add a little extra sauce or water to the top of the pasta to help retain moisture.
Microwave for 2-3 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
The stovetop is the best option if the pasta has a runnier sauce, like marinara. Place the dressed pasta in a saucepan and cook on low for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
If the sauce is too thick, add water to thin it out. If the sauce is already thin, it will thicken as it cooks due to moisture evaporation.
How to Keep Pasta From Sticking
How to keep pasta from sticking is a contentious subject amongst chefs and cooks. Some swear by adding oil to the pot of boiling water, while others declare this anathema.
If oil is added, sauces will not adhere to the pasta.
The best way to keep the pasta from sticking while cooking is to stir the pasta often.
Once the pasta is cooked, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to the drained pasta and toss. This method does not prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta.
Pasta is a versatile and popular dish. It pairs with everything and can be enjoyed cold or hot. The best thing about pasta is that it's easy to make.
The hard part is keeping it warm. The tricky part about reheating pasta is knowing the best method.
As the list above details, keeping pasta warm and reheating pasta is not complicated. The method used depends on how long the pasta sits before serving, what sauce is used, and when to add oil. So long as a few essential tips are used, you can have delicious pasta anytime.