An unconventional cooking method can save time and water

When cooking dried pasta, the standard practice is to bring a large amount of water to a rolling boil before adding the pasta. This can take considerable time, especially if your stove is not powerful. However, by using a method that turns the traditional technique on its head, you can shave almost half off the pasta cooking time and nearly three-quarters off the amount of water used, as America’s Test Kitchen explains.

Instead of using a large amount of water and letting it come to a boil first, starting the pasta in a much smaller amount of cold water saves time, water, and energy – with almost exactly the same result. The first time I read about this technique I was skeptical it would work. I figured the pasta would stick together in clumps or that it would not cook evenly with the smaller amount of water. Both fears were unfounded. I now use a wide ‘everyday’ pan (similar to this one) to cook pasta and what was already an easy meal became that much quicker. Sometimes techniques that seem absolutely counterintuitive are the ones that work best.

ATK notes that people with a sensitive palate might notice a difference in the pasta cooked using this method. Perhaps my palate is not very refined, but I found no discernable difference. I agree with ATK’s finding that it might take the pasta a bit longer to reach al dente than the time stated on the package (although overall you are still saving time). Also, since the amount of cooking water is smaller it gets starchier, so you will need less than usual if you use it to adjust the consistency of a sauce. You can take advantage of this effect in dishes like the 3-ingredient stovetop macaroni and cheese from Serious Eats pictured above, which utilizes the extra starchy water to make a deliciously creamy sauce.

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  • KatieK1  on  February 23, 2024

    I wonder how this would work with pasta made from chickpea flour, which is normally rinsed because it’s very starchy already.

  • KarenGlad  on  February 25, 2024

    Out of necessity to start, for years now, I’ve been cooking my pasta in way less water than called for…a little more than enough to cover. The running water at the cottage isn’t treated so I cook with bottled water. My pasta cooks just fine. I do the same at home just because it means a smaller pot to clean up. I heat the water first though….going to have to try the cold water method.

  • Fyretigger  on  February 25, 2024

    Where possible and appropriate, I cook the pasta in the sauce. I learned that from a J. Kenji Lopez-Alt book or post, and he learned it from his wife. He saw her doing that and told her that she can’t cook pasta like that, and she proved him wrong, winning him over.

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