Cook pasta in less water than what conventional wisdom says.
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.
You don’t need all that water to cook pasta. In fact, it’s better if you use less.
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.
Here are two other reasons to cook your pasta in less water: ✌️
Want to blow your mind even more? You can start cooking pasta with cold water—but that’s a topic for another newsletter. 🤯
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!
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:
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.