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The Best Way To Reheat Pasta With Cream Sauce [I Try 7 Methods]

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.

A note about my experiment

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:

  • In a double boiler
  • In the microwave
  • In the oven
  • On the stove (hot and fast)
  • On the stove (low and slow)
  • Stir-frying it

I also made a frittata with some because this is a popular suggestion for a way to transform leftover pasta.

I tasted each pasta once it was reheated and took notes on the taste, texture and how well the sauce stayed together

All the methods worked to a certain extent, but some gave better results than others.

Below I discuss each method and give my thoughts on it.

Spoiler alert! 

There were two stand out methods

  • On the stove (hot and fast) gave the best overall results, the pasta was as good as new. It was quick and the sauce was creamy and full of flavor.
  • The double boiler is the most gentle option and best for those whose main priority is to avoid a split sauce. This method doesn’t win overall for me as the dish felt a little bland compared to the hot and fast method. (more on this later).

Reheating creamy pasta on the stove with hot milk (the best way)

The stove is a good option for anyone wanting a quick, no fuss solution that isn’t the microwave.

But 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. 

There are two main ways to go about reheating creamy pasta on a stove: warm and very fast or low and slow. 

My personal favourite and the one I had most success with was the hot and fast method.

This is how you do it:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. As soon as the milk is ready, add the pasta to the pan and stir vigorously until the sauce re-emulsifies.
  4. 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. 

The less time it’s on the heat, the less chance there is of it splitting. The fast stirring will be enough to re-emulsify the sauce if it split in the microwave.

I know it sounds strange to suggest using heat – when too much heat is exactly what you’re supposed to avoid. But trust me, it works!

My verdict

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.

My theory is that the heat reactivated the garlic and helped bring out it’s flavor.

Because you’re using heat (the enemy of creamy sauces), you do need to be careful with this method. There’s no time to take your eye off the ball, but the results are worth it.

Reheating creamy pasta using a double boiler

A double boiler is usually used to melt chocolate, but it also works a treat for reheating last night’s Alfredo. It’s a very gentle method with almost no risk of the sauce splitting.

To reheat creamy pasta in a double boiler:

  1. Fill a saucepan with 2-3 inches of water and bring it to a simmer
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. Keep stirring until the pasta is heated through.

The theory is that using second-hand heat (steam) means the pasta heats up nice and slowly, meaning you have much more control. It’s highly unlikely that the pasta will get too hot and split when you’re using this method.

My verdict

This was one of the best methods and the one I recommend using if you absolutely cannot risk the sauce splitting.

It’s the gentlest method, so poses the least risk of overheating.

The final pasta dish had a perfectly creamy texture but was a little bland. Next time, I would add some chili flakes or extra cheese to enhance the flavors.

The best thing about the double boiler was that it took away any guesswork and there are no real variables. With the stovetop method above, results can vary depending on the heat you use, and the pan you use. But with a double boiler, the results will be far more consistent.

Reheating creamy pasta on the stove with low heat

The second stovetop option is to use a really low heat, and put the pasta and sauce in at the same time.

To reheat creamy pasta on the stove with low heat:

  1. Put your pasta in a saucepan and set the stove to the lowest heat setting you have.
  2. Do not wait for the pan to heat up. Immediately proceed to add the liquid and the pasta below. This is crucial to ensure the pan doesn’t get too hot too quickly.
  3. Add in some liquid (milk, water, cream, or stock), a tablespoon per portion should be enough. I find milk works best.
  4. 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.
  5. Turn the heat up slightly to medium-low.
  6. 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.  

Because you’re using a low heat, there isn’t much risk of the sauce splitting using this method.

Of course, it will vary from stove to stove, and the pan you use is another variable. As long as you remember to be gentle with the heat, you’ll be fine.

My verdict

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.

This method would work well for large batches of pasta. You can heat the pasta slowly enough to ensure it heats evenly, but you can also choose to turn the heat up a bit so it doesn’t take forever!

I added some chili flakes to regain some of the lost flavor here

Reheating creamy pasta in the microwave

Even though I know the microwave is the worst way to reheat things, I still find myself doing it because it’s just SO convenient!

And sometimes a microwave is your only choice. 

Creamy sauces are VERY likely to split in the microwave, but with a little care they can turn out pretty good.

To reheat creamy pasta in the microwave:

  1. Get a single portion of pasta and place it in a microwave-safe bowl 
  2. Put a tablespoon of milk or water in with the pasta
  3. Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap* and poke it with a fork so the steam can escape
  4. Set the microwave to 30% power and heat the pasta for 20 seconds
  5. Check on the pasta and stir
  6. 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. And the stopping to stir so often really helps to keep the sauce together.

Slow and steady wins the race.

My verdict

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.

After the first 20 seconds, my sauce looked like it had split, but I gave it a good stir and after the next 20 seconds it had come back together. 

Moral of the story: don’t give up if it looks like it’s going wrong. Just keep stirring!

Why is creamy pasta so prone to splitting in the microwave?

Microwaves are a very harsh and powerful reheating method.

They work by heating water molecules in the food. 

The water molecules heat up extremely quickly – they can reach boiling temperature in as little as 1 minute. And once the water gets too hot, there’s no going back. The sauce will split.

If you’re lucky and your sauce doesn’t split, there’s a good chance your pasta will come out dry because a large chunk of the moisture will have evaporated.

This is why it’s important to add water to the pasta and cover the pasta to trap steam. Steam helps negate the drying effects of the microwave.

Reheating creamy pasta in the oven

The oven is a slower method but requires minimal effort from your side. Simply pop the pasta in the oven and wait. 

To reheat a creamy pasta dish in the oven:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. Spread the pasta out in a shallow dish.
  3. Add a tablespoon of milk or water to the pasta to keep it moist during cooking.
  4. Cover with foil and bake for 10-20 minutes depending on how much pasta you have.
  5. Check the pasta at the halfway mark, stir and add a bit more liquid if it looks dry.
  6. 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.

My verdict

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

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.

To stir fry leftover pasta:

  1. Chop the pasta up
  2. Chuck the pasta in a pan and fry it until the edges start crisping up

The crispy edges give the pasta a nice texture and transform the dish into something completely different.

My verdict

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.

Tips and tricks for reheating a creamy pasta sauce

There are several different ways of reheating a creamy pasta, with some common themes running through all the methods. Knowing these tips will help make sure your reheating strategy is a success whatever method you choose.

Too much heat is the enemy of creamy sauces

Too much heat and the sauce will split, so the trick is to go low and slow. Heat the pasta slowly with as little heat as you can get away with, this should minimize the risk of the sauce splitting.

You never want the sauce to boil, or even get close to boiling. If the sauce boils, it will split.

Add a little liquid to the sauce while you’re heating it

Creamy sauces are very unstable and become even more unstable after chilling. 

Adding in some extra water or milk as you reheat the sauce helps stabilize it and reduces the chances of a split sauce. I explain more about this in the below section ‘why does my cream sauce always split?’

As a guide – a tablespoon of extra liquid per portion is a good place to start.

Add some extra flavor while you’re reheating the pasta

Most of these methods use low heat to slowly warm the pasta. This doesn’t give the flavors much chance to reinvigorate and you can end up with quite a bland dish.

To prevent this, add some extra flavors in while you’re reheating. Lemon juice, chili, or extra cheese would be my go-to’s. A crack of black pepper would also help.

Other ways to use up leftover creamy pasta

Don’t feel like having exactly the same meal as last night?

Here are some ideas to help you shake things up. Reheating leftover pasta isn’t the only thing you can do with it!

These ideas work well with creamy pasta dishes, but they’re suitable for all types of leftover pasta.

Make a frittata

A frittata is basically a super thick omelette that can have pretty much any filling you want.

Pasta is a little out there, but is surprisingly delicious!

You can cook a frittata on the stove or in the oven, it’s up to you. I’ve given instructions for the traditional method which combines stove and oven cooking.

How to make a pasta frittata:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Crack 3 eggs per portion of pasta and whisk in a bowl.
  3. Chop your leftover pasta up or heat it slightly in a pan to loosen the strands.
  4. Mix the pasta into the whisked eggs (you can add other things here like extra veg, cooked meats, cheese, etc).
  5. Oil an oven-proof skillet and heat it to a medium-low heat.
  6. Pour in the pasta and egg mixture distributing it evenly over the pan.
  7. Cook undisturbed until the bottom of the mixture firms up.
  8. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook it until the eggs set (around 10-15 minutes).

To completely cook a frittata on the stove you need to flip it halfway through.

When the edges of the frittata are set, it’s time to flip.

I’m going to be honest here, there’s a reasonable chance the flipping will end in disaster. But if you attack it with confidence you might be alright!

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.

You can also just put the mixture straight in the oven. If you choose to do this go for a lower oven temperature (350 degrees Fahrenheit) so as not to burn the top of the frittata. It should take around 7-14 minutes to cook through (depending on the size of the frittata). 

Make frittatinas

For a fun party food you can make mini frittatas (frittatinas) using a muffin tray. These need to be baked in the oven. 

Mix pasta and egg together in a bowl and then spoon the mixture into an oil-sprayed muffin tray. Cook the frittatinas in the oven at 350 degrees for 15-30 minutes, or until the egg is completely set.

Make a pasta fritter

You can also use less eggs and make fritters. 

For fritters, you just need enough egg to bind the pasta. Mix the egg and pasta in a bowl and then pour the mixture into a frying pan and fry it on both sides until it’s crispy.

Why does my cream sauce always split when I reheat it?

Cream pasta sauces are emulsions.

This means they’re made up of solid fat particles suspended in water. Emulsions are very fragile and the fat can separate from the water very easily, when this happens you say that sauce has split. Split pasta sauce will be lumpy and you’ll see a pool of oil or butter in the bottom of the bowl.

It can still taste okay, but is far from appetizing.

Why does this happen?

  • The sauce gets too hot and this causes the emulsifier to break down 
  • Too much water evaporates and there’s not enough left to hold the emulsion

Splitting is even more likely to happen when you’re reheating the sauce because chilling it de-stabilizes the emulsion. 

As the pasta sits in your fridge, it continues to absorb water from the sauce. The reduction of water in the sauce means the emulsion is more fragile and will split more easily. 

For this reason, it’s really important to add more liquid into your pasta when you’re reheating it. You’ll notice in all the methods I recommended adding a spoonful of milk or water. 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. Better yet, just make the sauce and cook the pasta before serving. You can also add a stabilizer to the sauce to prevent it from splitting. 

And remember to cook the pasta al-dente to allow for extra cooking when you’re reheating it.

Cook the pasta al dente

Overcooked pasta can ruin even the best pasta sauce, so it’s something you want to avoid.

When you first cook the pasta, take it out a 1-2 minutes before you normally would. The pasta will continue to absorb water during storage, and it will cook a bit more when you’re reheating it.

If you cook the pasta to perfection the first time, it will be overcooked and mushy when you reheat it.

Add a stabilizer to the sauce

Mayonnaise is an emulsion, but is totally stable in a jar in the fridge. 

Why? 

Because it has stabilizing ingredients. 

You can do the same thing with your sauce – add a stabilizing ingredient to help keep the emulsion together. 

Mayonnaise uses egg yolks and mustard.

But a roux is the perfect stabilizer for a cream-based pasta sauce. It’s easy to make, won’t alter the taste of the sauce, and you don’t need to adapt the recipe too much.

To make a roux you need to mix equal parts flour and butter in a pan and whisk vigorously while heating for 1-2 minutes. This will cook off the flour taste. 

Generally, the first step in making a creamy sauce is to melt some butter in a pan, so you can do the roux while you do this.

You can then continue to make your sauce as you normally would.

The roux helps to hold the sauce together and means it’s much less susceptible to splitting upon reheating. It will also thicken the sauce.

Store the sauce and pasta separately

Creamy pasta sauces are much easier to store when there’s no pasta involved. 

Stirring an emulsified sauce like a mad-man is a sure fire way to stop it from splitting, but when there’s loads of pasta in the way it’s hard to do anything more than a gentle toss. 

Cook the sauce, cook the pasta and then store them in separate airtight containers in the fridge. You can lightly oil the pasta to keep it from sticking together.

To reheat plain pasta, put it in a sieve and dip it in boiling water for 30 seconds.

To reheat the sauce, add some milk and stir it continuously over a low heat until it’s ready. You can use a pan or a double boiler.

How long will a creamy pasta sauce last?

A creamy pasta sauce such as an alfredo will last 5-7 days in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer. But if it’s already mixed with the pasta, the quality of the dish will start to deteriorate after around 3 days. Store the sauce and pasta in airtight container(s).

How To Reheat Pasta With Cream Sauce

If you’ve got a load of creamy pasta leftovers in the refrigerator and need to reheat them without them splitting, this recipe is for you. I've tried and tested virtually every method you can imagine to come up with the ultimate reheating process. No more split creamy past ever again.
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Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 1 person
Calories 656 kcal

Equipment

Microwave

Ingredients
 

  • 3 tbsp milk water, chicken stock, or cream also work
  • 1 portion leftover creamy pasta

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Nutrition

Serving: 400gCalories: 656kcal
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