It's no secret that pasta is undeniably delicious. It's also no secret that cooking just the right amount of pasta can be a surprisingly tricky endeavor.
Just eyeballing the "perfect" serving for a tasty dinner for one, two or four doesn't always work, and often the sauce-to-pasta ratio is ruined or you're left with an absurd amount of leftover noodles.
So what's a home cook to do?
Whether you're entertaining with a dish like rigatoni with corn and spicy sausage or a simple lunch like Giada DiLaurentiis's cacio e pepe, there is light at the end of this Italian tunnel and plenty of easy ways to gauge exactly how much pasta you'll have after it's taken a swim in salted water.
Amy Brandwein, owner and chef of Washington D.C.'s Centrolina and a James Beard Foundation Award finalist, shared easy steps to put an end to less-than-perfect pasta servings. Here's how to make restaurant-approved dish sizes every single time you wear your Sicilian chef's hat.
1. Don't just dump in the whole box.
While there's a gratifying feeling of emptying a whole box of dried pasta into a pot of boiling water, unless you're feeding a ton of people, it's unlikely you'll need that much in one serving. If you want to be sure each of your guests are eating the same amount, just grab a measuring cup so you know exactly how much you're making. Brandwein says most boxes of dried pasta are about 1 pound and offer four large individual servings.
2. Use a measuring cup to portion dried pasta.
Semolina pasta can double in size when you cook it, so measure accordingly. For example, when cooking a semolina penne, Barilla says to measure 2/3 cup dried pasta for 1 1/4 cups of cooked pasta; if you're cooking rotini, use 1/2 cup of dried pasta for 1 cup cooked. One serving of cooked pasta is typically 1 to 1 1/2 cups, but keep in mind that you'll likely be bulking up your dish with sauce and other extras like veggies or proteins.
To determine how many cups to measure, home cooks can use Barilla's handy chart.
3. When it comes to long noodles, trust the way it feels.
Brandwein advises measuring each box of long noodles into four equal portions to achieve a serving size of about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cooked pasta. If you really want to be specific, however, Barilla says most long noodles, from angel hair to fettuccini, need to measure 2 1/4 inches around to equal one cup of cooked pasta. So break out the ribbon tape measurers, folks!
4. Whole wheat and gluten-free pastas don't swell as much as semolina.
When added to salted water, a regular white flour pasta plumps up to about twice the size of its dried form. Whole wheat and gluten-free versions, however, do not absorb as much water and remain a bit more true to size, so you can measure more closely to the desired cooked amount. So if you want one cup of whole wheat cooked pasta, measure about 3/4 cup of of dry pasta, and maybe a little extra. By the way, when it comes to salt, Brandwein usually adds a tablespoon to every gallon of water.
5. Counting out fresh, filled pastas is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Whether you're making homemade ravioli or buying it fresh from the store, it's best to keep serving sizes even. When Brandwein serves larger raviolis, she counts eight per order. For smaller filled pastas, such as tortellini, home cooks can double the amount and serve approximately 16 tortellinis per person.