The Surefire Way To Avoid A Dried-Out Baked Pasta

Baked pasta is a wonderfully comforting dish that is perfect for cold winter nights. The recipe is simple to make, and most recipes make a bunch, so you can enjoy leftovers for a few days. But there are some pitfalls to this way of making pasta.

Pasta is delicious when it is tender and perfectly cooked. But baking pasta is fraught with potential problems. Because many recipes call for precooking the pasta, it can overcook in the sauce in the oven, resulting in pasta that is flabby and too soft. And the dry heat of the oven can dry out the pasta, especially if it was added uncooked in the first place. No one likes crunchy pasta. Pasta can be temperamental even under the best of circumstances, depending on how dry it was to begin with, the age of the pasta, and your method of cooking. 

And if you are making baked pasta, why do you want to heat a large pot of water to precook it? Aren't you trying to avoid that cumbersome step? You need to stir the pasta often and make sure you get it out of the water before it reaches the al dente stage. Is there any way you can avoid these issues and save your expensive dinner?

Soak your pasta

The secret, chef Sara Moulton told Oregon Live, is to soak your pasta before you add it to the rest of the ingredients in the casserole. You don't boil it, and you don't add it to the casserole dry. She says that this step starts to hydrate the pasta and, since you are soaking the pasta in salted water, it's also seasoned. Additionally, pasta has a lot of surface starch that can make it sticky when it's mixed uncooked with other ingredients. Soaking rinses away that starch.

The pasta should be soaked in a large quantity of well-salted warm water for about 45 minutes. That may seem to some readers like a long time, but the good news is you don't have to do anything to the pasta during this time. Use that pocket of time to make the sauce and get the rest of your dinner ready (garlic bread anyone?). When the 45 minutes is up, drain the pasta, and add it to the remaining ingredients. When the casserole is assembled, it only takes about 20 minutes to bake to tender and flavorful perfection.

Bake some pasta

Now that you know the secret to the perfectly baked pasta, what are you going to make? There are so many recipes to choose from. You can try baked spaghetti, or make lasagna, that classic layered Italian dish. Whichever recipe you choose, use that soaking method, and you will be rewarded with perfection every time. Just remember, if you are cooking from a recipe that starts with dry pasta, you have to reduce the cooking time in the oven.

Try a simple recipe for baked spaghetti that is rich with ricotta and pork sausage, or make BBQ spaghetti for an American twist on the classic. Another recipe for Mum's baked pasta is old-fashioned comfort food, with a creamy homemade bechamel sauce and lots of spices. Baked ziti is a classic, of course, and a recipe made with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and romano will surely satiate your hunger. Or when it's really cold outside, try out a recipe for a luscious baked mac and cheese.