If you’ve got a load of creamy pasta leftovers in the refrigerator and need to reheat them without them splitting, this article is for you.
There’s a lot of mediocre to downright terrible advice online, especially when it comes to reheating creamy pasta. I decided to take (mostly) all the reheating techniques suggested online and put them through their paces.
If you’re short on time and wondering what the best way to reheat creamy pasta is, here you go:
The best way to reheat creamy pasta is on the stove using hot milk. Heat 3 tablespoons of milk per portion of creamy pasta until just simmering. Microwave the pasta for 5-10 seconds while the milk heats. Add the pasta to the pan of hot milk, stirring vigorously until the sauce re-emulsifies.
How I Tested Reheating Creamy Pasta
I cooked up a big batch of (extra garlicky) alfredo pasta and left it in the fridge overnight to cool down. The next day, I tried 7 different ways of reheating it. These include:
- On the stove with hot milk: Delivers on taste and texture.
- In a double boiler: A gentle method with creamy results.
- On the stove (low heat): Good for larger batches of pasta.
- In the microwave: Okay in a pinch.
- In the oven: Avoid, ended up with a split sauce.
- Stir-frying: Good of you want something different.
I tasted a few bites of each pasta portion once it was reheated and took notes on the taste, texture and how well the sauce stayed together.
Psst… want a healthier creamy pasta? Try out these substitutes for heavy cream in pasta.
Reheating creamy pasta on the stove with hot milk
Time: 1-2 minutes
- Heat some milk (water, cream, and chicken stock also work) in a pan until it’s just about to start simmering. 2-3 tablespoons per pasta portion should be enough. Use a shallow pan with a wide base.
- While the milk is heating, warm the pasta in the microwave for 5 seconds so it can be easily separated.
- As soon as the milk is ready, add the pasta to the pan and stir vigorously until the sauce emulsifies (around 1-2 minutes)
- Once the sauce has emulsified, take the pasta off the heat and serve.
If the pasta is a little runny, turn the heat down and allow the sauce to reduce slightly. But remember that the sauce will firm up as it cools too.
The key with this method is the pan size. You want one with a large surface area so all of the pasta connects with the pan at the same time. The more points of contact, the faster the pasta will heat up and the less time it needs to spend on the heat.
And because you’re using first-hand heat, you need to be careful. It’s easy to overheat a pan without realizing it, and too much heat will cause your sauce to split.
Results: This method gave me the best results by far. The other methods could bring back the texture, but the flavor was lackluster. The method delivered on taste AND texture – it was definitely the closest to ‘just cooked’ Alfredo.
Reheating creamy pasta using a double boiler
Time: 5-7 minutes
- Fill a saucepan with 2-3 inches of water and bring it to a simmer.
- Rest a glass or stainless steel bowl in the pan to create a double boiler. Make sure there’s a gap between the bottom of the bowl and the simmering water
- Place the leftover pasta in the bowl along with some milk, water, cream, or chicken stock. Use a tablespoon of liquid per portion. The steam from the water will start heating it
- Stir the pasta frequently until the sauce loosens up and incorporates the extra liquid you added. If the pasta starts to look dry, add some more of your chosen liquid.
- Keep stirring until the pasta is heated through, around 5-7 minutes for on portion.
The theory behind using a double boiler is that using second-hand heat (steam) means the pasta heats up nice and slowly, so you have much more control.
It’s highly unlikely that the pasta will get too hot and split when you’re using this method.
Results: This is the method I recommend using if you absolutely cannot risk the sauce splitting. It’s also the most consistent method. My pasta had a perfect creamy texture, but the flavor was a little bland compared to the previous method and it was slower.
Reheating creamy pasta on the stove with low heat
Time: 4-5 minutes
- Put your pasta in a saucepan and set the stove to the lowest heat setting you have.
- Do not wait for the pan to heat up. Immediately add the pasta. This is crucial to ensure the pan doesn’t get too hot too quickly.
- Add in some liquid (milk, water, cream, or stock), a tablespoon per portion should be enough. I find milk works best.
- Gently warm the pasta until it starts to get a more sauce-like consistency instead of the congealed consistency it has out of the fridge.
- Then turn the heat up slightly to medium-low.
- Stir continuously until the sauce is blended and the pasta is warmed through. If the pasta starts to look dry, you can always add in some more of your chosen liquid.
To loosen the pasta, stir it in circular motions, gently pushing the strands apart as you go. As it starts to separate you can start folding in the extra liquid. It’s important to get the pasta separated before the pan heats up too much. If you don’t, you risk the pasta not heating evenly.
Results: The pasta came out fine – it didn’t split and the sauce was a good texture. But again, it lacked some flavor so I spruced it up with some chili flakes. I recommend this method for large batches of pasta that would take too long in a double boiler.
Reheating creamy pasta in the microwave
Time: 2-3 minutes
- Get a single portion of pasta and place it in a microwave-safe bowl
- Put a tablespoon of milk or water in with the pasta
- Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap* and poke it with a fork so the steam can escape
- Set the microwave to 50% power and heat the pasta for 20 seconds
- Check on the pasta and stir.
- Heat for another 20 seconds, check the pasta again, and then heat in 20-second intervals until it’s done. Stir after every 20 seconds. If the pasta looks dry, add in some more liquid.
*If you don’t have any plastic wrap you can also cover the bowl with a wet paper towel. The moisture will encourage steam and help heat the pasta.
Never heat more than a single portion in the microwave. Microwaves don’t heat evenly and the more pasta you have in there, the more unevenly it will heat.
20 second intervals might seem like overkill, but trust me, it’s worth it. The sauce can split in the blink of an eye in the microwave because it’s such a powerful heating method. If the sauce looks like it’s starting ti split, give it a really good stir and it should come back together.
Results: I was pleasantly surprised that the sauce didn’t split, but the pasta was noticeably dryer than other methods. Also, the constant stopping and stirring meant that the microwave wasn’t much quicker than heating the pasta on the stove. I’d use the microwave again in a pinch, but if you have access to a stove I’d use that instead.
Reheating creamy pasta in the oven
Time: 10-20 minutes
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Spread the pasta out in a shallow dish.
- Add a tablespoon of milk or water to the pasta to keep it moist during cooking.
- Cover with foil and bake for 7-15 minutes depending on how much pasta you have.
- Check the pasta at the halfway mark, stir and add a bit more liquid if it looks dry.
- Uncover and sprinkle with cheese for the last 2-3 minutes of cooking (optional but highly recommended – cheese makes everything better!).
A shallow dish is best because this means you can spread the pasta thinly and it will warm up quicker. A thick slab of pasta will take much longer to heat and the pasta is much more likely to dry out.
If the pasta is too stuck together to distribute around the dish, put it in a sandwich bag and run some hot water from the tap over it. This will help loosen the pasta.
The foil cover helps to keep the moisture in the dish and slows down the drying process.
Results: The oven was one of only two methods where I ended up with a split sauce. It still tasted okay, but I wouldn’t have wanted to serve it to guests. I checked my pasta after 10 minutes but in hindsight I think this was too late because I was only reheating a small amount of pasta. Next time I would check it sooner.
Reheating creamy pasta by stir frying
Time: 2-3 minutes
- Chop the pasta up.
- Chuck the pasta in a pan and fry it until the edges start crisping up.
This option is a little rogue because you’re not going to get a beautiful, silky sauce. In fact, it’s going to be a little greasy.
But stir-frying is super easy and fast.
Results: I wasn’t a fan of this method. The sauce split completely and there was no hint of the cheesy, creamy sauce that was there before. There was a crispiness that I can see some people appreciating, but I won’t be doing this again.
Have you tried the stir-fry method? Let me know in the comments.
Bonus method: make a frittata
Don’t feel like having exactly the same meal as last night? Making a frittata is my favorite way to transform leftover pasta into something new.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Crack 2-3 eggs per portion of pasta and whisk in a bowl.
- Chop your leftover pasta up or heat it slightly in a pan to loosen the strands.
- Mix the pasta into the whisked eggs (you can add other things here like extra veg, cooked meats, cheese, etc).
- Oil an oven-proof skillet and heat it to a medium-low heat.
- Pour in the pasta and egg mixture distributing it evenly over the pan.
- Cook undisturbed until the bottom of the mixture firms up.
- Transfer the pan to the oven and cook it until the eggs set (around 10-15 minutes).
You can also cook the frittata just on the stove by flipping it over once the bottom is firm.
Take a plate and invert it over your skillet, then flip the frittata onto the plate. The motion needs to be up and over, you want the frittata to flip cleanly onto the plate. Once you’ve flipped it, slide the frittata back into the pan and continue cooking.
Tip: If you have a muffin tray you can spoon the frittata mixture into the muffin tray and bake them in the oven to make mini frittatas.
Why does my cream sauce always split when I reheat it?
Cream pasta sauces are emulsions, which means they’re made up of solid fat particles suspended in water. Emulsions are fragile and the fat can separate from the water very easily (i.e the sauce splits). Split pasta sauce will be lumpy and you’ll see a pool of oil or butter in the bottom of the bowl.
The sauce will split when:
- It gets too hot
- There’s not enough water left
Splitting is even more likely to happen when you’re reheating a creamy sauce because it will de-stabilize in storage.
As the pasta sits in your fridge, it will absorb water from the sauce. The loss of water makes the emulsion more fragile. This is why it’s so important to add more liquid into your pasta when you’re reheating it. The introduction of more liquid helps stabilize the sauce.
Most of the time when reheating goes wrong, it’s because no extra liquid was added. Or the heat was too aggressively applied.
How to make creamy pasta ahead of time?
You can make creamy pasta ahead of time. But for best results, you should plan to store the sauce and pasta separately and add a stabilizer to the sauce. Stablizing the sauce will make sure it doesn’t split when you’re reheating it.
- Add a stabilizer to the sauce: A roux is the perfect stabilizer for a cream-based pasta sauce. It’s easy to make and won’t alter the taste of the sauce. Mix equal parts flour and butter in a pan and whisk vigorously while heating for 1-2 minutes. Then continue making the sauce as normal.
- Cook the pasta al dente: Take the pasta off the heat 1-2 minutes before you normally would, this means it won’t overcook during the reheating process.
- Store the sauce and pasta separately: This will keep the pasta from getting mushy in storage, and also makes it easier to reheat the sauce.
How To Reheat Pasta With Cream Sauce
- 3 tbsp milk water, chicken stock, or cream also work
- 1 portion leftover creamy pasta
- Heat some milk (water, cream, and chicken stock also work) in a pan until it’s just about to start simmering. 2-3 tablespoons per portion should be enough. Use a shallow pan with a wide base.
- While the milk is heating, warm the pasta in the microwave for 5 seconds so it can be easily separated. Don’t worry if the sauce splits at this point.
- As soon as the milk is ready, add the pasta to the pan and stir vigorously until the sauce re-emulsifies.
- Once the sauce has re-emulsified, take the pasta off the heat and serve.
- If the pasta is a little runny, turn the heat down and allow the sauce to reduce slightly. But remember that the sauce will firm up as it cools too.
- The key with this method is the pan size. You want one with a large surface area so all of the pasta connects with the pan at the same time. The more points of contact, the faster the pasta will heat up and the less time it needs to spend on the heat.