The secret to your favorite creamy, silky pasta isn’t olive oil. Or extra pats of butter. It’s just good old pasta water.
When we started cooking more, we uncovered a few life-changing tricks. High on the list is the discovery of pasta water. Yes, that cloudy, starchy, slightly murky looking water left in the pot after you boil your pasta to a perfect al dente, is now our go-to trick for restaurant-quality pasta.
So, why is it so magical?
It will coat your pasta in a creamy, delicious sauce.
When you simmer or boil noodles, they release starch. Using a little bit of starchy pasta water is the key to success in many well known and well-loved pasta dishes, including Cacio e Pepe and carbonara. The starchy pasta water emulsifies into a creamy, delicious sauce when added to fats like olive oil, butter, or even meat drippings.
Instead of using a colander, pull your pasta directly from your Big Pot using tongs or a slotted spoon and mix them with sauce in your Big Pan. This approach will ensure that the noodles are still coated in some of the pasta water, and leave you a big reserve of water to freeze for later (we like saving it in our ice cube tray). As you stir your noodles and whatever fat or oil you’re using together, continue to add pasta water until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. Perfecto!
It will enhance other pre-made sauces.
Have your own sauce already on hand, or are you planning to make red sauce, pesto, or other variation? Using a little bit of pasta water will help your sauce bind to your pasta, leading to a more evenly coated dish and avoiding the common pitfall of a leftover sauce puddle.
For this technique, use either tongs (best for long noodles like spaghetti), a slotted spoon (best for short noodles like rigatoni or penne), or a pasta spoon to pull the noodles directly from the water it was boiled in and drop directly into the sauce. You can also reserve a small bowl of pasta water and add it slowly as you mix your noddles and sauce together.
It will help you make fluffy, doughy bread.
Like many others, we’ve recently taken up bread baking (you can save 10% on our baking bundle here). Another easy way to use your pasta water is by substituting it for the water you would have otherwise used in your dough. The starchiness of the pasta water helps the bread rise, resulting in a deliciously doughy loaf.
Because pasta water is already salted, it’s good to taste your water and adjust the salt you add to your dough mixture to ensure you don’t end up with bread that’s too salty. Just in case that happens, check out our post on flavor balancing.
Alongside odds and ends we now store in our freezer for things like homemade stocks, we’ve recently added a few containers of frozen pasta water and have been playing around with adding it to cooked beans and using it as a replacement for vegetable stock.