🍝 Cooking pasta wrong? It’s pasta-ble!

First off, a big thank you to everyone that completed the survey! ☺️ You’ll see some tweaks over the next few weeks as I work on implementing some of the feedback. And lastly, congrats to the three cookbook winners! I was pumped to give away Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, KitchenWise, and Six Seasons.

Cook Pasta in Less Water

When making pasta, we’ve all read the instructions: “Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.”

Everything I’ve always heard about cooking pasta is that you must use a large amount of boiling water. But why? If you don’t, the pasta will stick together and turn gummy…right? Nope.

Like most “rules” for cooking, this one isn’t true.

We’ve been doing it wrong! Kenji, Alton, McGee, and Cook’s Illustrated all confirmed it.

You don’t need all that water to cook pasta. In fact, it’s better if you use less.

Why Cook Your Pasta in Less Water?

The first, and most important reason, is your sauce.

We use pasta water in sauces. The starch released into the water as the pasta cooks creates a magical concoction. Using that starchy water will (1) thicken your sauce and (2) marry the sauce and noodles together. It acts as an emulsifier. It’s especially crucial for sauces that use fat as a main ingredient like cacio e pepe, carbonara, or aglio e olio. It’s the pasta water that makes those sauces creamy not cream. 🥛❌

But these sauces are notoriously hard to make at home. And it’s because of the pasta water. You need lots of starch in the water to prevent clumping and to create the right consistency.

So why are restaurant versions typically better? It’s because they cook more pasta than we do. And they do it in the same pot of water. So as more pasta cooks, more starch is released. And the more valuable the pasta water becomes.

Lucky for us, we can cheat the system. How? Use less water.

The higher the ratio of water to pasta, the more diluted the starch levels. Conversely, you’ll concentrate the amount of starch when you cook pasta in less water.

I cooked the same amount of pasta in two separate pots. The one on the left used half the amount of water. You can see the difference in starch levels!

Here are two other reasons to cook your pasta in less water: ✌️

  1. The water boils faster: A watched pot does boil. It just takes FOREVER! Using less water means less time and energy is needed to bring it to a boil.
  2. You waste less: Most of the water and salt you add goes down the drain after you’re done cooking your pasta. If you use less, you waste less.
Want to blow your mind even more? You can start cooking pasta with cold water—but that’s a topic for another newsletter. 🤯

But…What About Sticking? And the Texture?

They aren’t a thing! Well...kind of.

Pasta sticks when it cooks. But it sticks the same amount whether you cook it in a lot of water or a little.

Here’s the real way to prevent stickage: stir!

Starches start to absorb water once the temperature hits 180℉ (82℃). And once they absorb enough of it, the starches burst! 💥 At that point, all the broken starchy bits are released into the water. But that process mostly happens in the first couple of minutes of cooking pasta. So simply stir vigorously a few times when you first add the pasta to the water. That will disperse the sticky starch molecules off the pasta and into the water. Easy as that!

What about the texture? No difference. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt ran the tests to confirm it. Your pasta still comes out perfectly al-dente. Or molto al-dente, if you’re doing it right! 😉

How To Cook Your Pasta with Less Water

It’s straightforward but there are a few important things to keep in mind.

First up, how much water should you use? 1.5 to 2 quarts of water per 16oz (500g) of pasta will do the trick. Simply bring it up to a boil like you would normally and then add your salt and pasta.

But remember these two things:

  1. Don’t use as much salt as you normally would for 4 quarts. Otherwise your sauce will turn out too salty when you add the pasta water to it. I typically add about 1 tablespoon of Diamond kosher salt per 1.5 quarts.
  2. Use the right kind of pot/pan! Since you’re using less water, you need to make sure it covers all the pasta so it cooks evenly. If you’re cooking longer pasta shapes like spaghetti, try to use a wide enough pot or skillet—with tall sides—so the spaghetti lays flat and submerges easily.

Where I learned this: I first saw this technique in Milk Street’s Pasta Perfect Cooking Class. But I also learned from this article by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and this episode of Good Eats Reloaded.
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I hope this makes you reconsider how you cook pasta. If you want to stick to cooking pasta in lots of water, that’s cool! You’ll still end up with a great result. But at least now you know all the pastabilities! 😉

Talk to you next week,

Luciano 👨‍🍳

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