Don't Break Your Spaghetti In Half

According to food historian Francine Segan, spaghetti is the most popular pasta in both Italy and the U.S. Even with all the variety out there, Americans can’t eat enough of the simplest, most iconic pasta shape. When it’s time to cook dinner, we hastily grab a box of spaghetti, a random-sized pot, and break the noodles in half without giving it a thought. But if you’re Italian like me, then your ancestors will be raising an eyebrow.

There isn’t a written rule in Italian cooking about never breaking pasta. “However, there is a strict consensus that breaking pasta is a no-no because the length of the pasta enhances the eating experience and aesthetics of the dish,” Segan says. So even though it might seem really common, you shouldn't break your spaghetti in half.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when you’re cooking spaghetti.

first person view of male hands breaking a bunch of spaghetti isolated
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Different Pasta Shapes Require Their Own Pots

I recommend using a 10- to 12-inch cast iron skillet, saute, or frying pan with higher sides to cook longer shapes like spaghetti, linguini, and fettuccine. The pasta will fit perfectly into the skillet, and you'll get more concentrated starchy water, which is ideal for sauces that require pasta water like cacio e pepe. Taller pots work great for tubular or oblong pasta shapes, such as rigatoni, penne, farfalle, and fusilli.

boiled water and spaghetti noodle for cooking italian pasta
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You Need to Twirl the Pasta

Why would you make spaghetti if you can’t twirl it?! Taking a fork and knife to long pasta shapes, like you would a piece of meat, is not acceptable. Regional Italian spaghetti recipes include carbonara, cacio e pepe, and spaghetti alla’ assassina, and creamy or tomato-rich sauces like these are best enjoyed in medium coils formed by your fork’s tines, or with the help of your spoon.

spaghetti sauce with ground beef crushed tomatoes parmesan rind and basil

There Are a Few Cultural Exceptions for Breaking Pasta

There are exceptions to the don’t-break-pasta rule beyond Italian cuisine. Robert Seixas, Delish’s Food Director, says that he breaks vermicelli into small pieces when he makes Lebanese-style rice. Mexican soup Sopa de Fideo is a brothy tomato based soup that uses pieces of broken vermicelli called fideo. Segan points to a number of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian recipes that call for breaking noodles to make eating the dish easier.

But in Italian culture, breaking spaghetti is generally frowned upon, especially when there’s an intention to make something a specific way, Segan says. “Spaghetti and other long pasta requires skill and care by the pasta maker. It’s an insult to their artisan craft to destroy the intended length.”

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