How much salt should you really use when making pasta?

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Pasta in Boiling Water
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When I was in culinary school, an instructor once said, "salt your water when making pasta like the ocean and your water when making rice like your tears." Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, it would have been good advice if I had a distinct sense of what these guidelines even meant practically in the kitchen.

With pasta as a go-to staple in my household, you'd think I'd know how to get it right by now. But despite my culinary school background and working in professional kitchens, every time I set out to make a new batch of pasta, there's always a little voice in my head taunting, you're salting it wrong.

That's why I decided to reach out to Fabio Viviani, a born and raised Italian chef (he now resides in Chicago), restauranteur, and author of Fabio's Italian Kitchen, to settle the debate.

First, for those questioning if you need to salt the boiling water before you add your pasta in the first place, yes, yes you should. "I always cook pasta in salted water. It makes the pasta taste better," says Viviani. As for the specific amount of salt, here's his rule of thumb: "Use a lot of water for the pasta—at least five to six quarts of water for one pound of pasta. If you wonder how much salt to add, think ‘generous pinch.' If you've an oversized hand, make it half a pinch; if you've a very small hand, make it two pinches. Be generous, not ridiculous, with the salt."

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When boiling your water for pasta, it's also worth considering what the final product will be, and to tweak how much salt you add accordingly. Are you making a light pasta salad dish with loads of veggies? Baked ziti? Spaghetti and tomato sauce? "If you know you're going to have a four-cheese sauce, naturally, there's a lot of salt in that already, so you don't want to over-salt your pasta," adds Viviani.

Ready to experiment with your new pasta water prowess? These summer pasta recipes are an excellent place to start.