Most cooks think they’re stopping their noodles from sticking together when adding olive oil to their boiling pasta water.
Michael Easton, chef and owner of Il Corvo Pasta in Seattle, which has a retail studio that designs pasta, says otherwise.
According to Easton, olive oil sits on top of the boiling water and interrupts the surface tension, therefore preventing the water from foaming up and boiling over the pot.
However, he also says that the only time pasta water is likely to boil over is when you’re cooking hearty noodles that have around a 13 minute cooking time.
So unless you’re cooking a heavier noodle with more texture — think rigatoni and not spaghetti — there’s really no need to add olive oil to your water.
Plus, Easton makes the point that higher quality noodles won’t stick together in the first place. Good quality noodles will have enough protein and gluten in them to prevent any stickiness.
If you’re worried about your noodles sticking together post boiling (if you’re not adding your sauce right away), Easton suggests tossing the cooked noodles in butter.
“The butter — instead of olive oil at that point — becomes part of your sauce, and helps make your sauce stick to the noodle. Whereas olive oil, at that point, will coat your noodles and not really let them accept the sauce. It’ll keep the sauce from sticking to your noodles.”
So there you have it: save your olive oil for another dish.