This is a post.
This is a post about pasta.
This is a post about how to cook pasta.
This is a post about how to cook pasta in cold water.
Beth, have you lost your mind? You can’t cook pasta in cold water. Did you take your baby brain pills today?
First of all, baby brain is a REAL THING. At least it feels real. Second of all, I know you can’t cook pasta in cold water. But, you can put pasta in a pot, cover it with cold water, and then boil it. In fact, if you do that, the pasta will turn out perfectly and you just might cook it that way all the time. We already unlearned how to cook quinoa, so now we’re going to unlearn how to cook pasta. Ready?
Ok, so the first thing to know is that this method only works with short pasta – think penne, macaroni, rotini, bow tie, etc. You can try it with long noodles but chances are you’ll end up with a mess. The good news is there are a plethora of short pastas to cook, so let’s get to it!
You are probably wondering why in the heck anyone would want to cook their pasta in cold water. I mean, we’ve all learned the Great Commandment of Pasta Cooking:
“Thou Shalt Add Thy Pasta to a Large Amount of Boiling Salted Water” ~ Barilla 1:1
No offense to the Pasta Gods, but there is another (better) way. By using the cold water pasta method, we accomplish a few important things:
1. The pasta takes less time to cook. In this method, a smaller volume of water is used, so it takes less time to boil. Also, the total cooking time is less because the pasta starts to cook as the water heats up. WIN for efficiency!
2. The texture of the pasta is better. Because the pasta is cooked gradually as the water comes to a boil, the texture remains “al dente” or “to the tooth”, which is perfect for things like pasta salads, baked pasta casseroles, etc. Basically, the pasta is firm and tender, but not mushy. Just as it should be.
3. Leftover starchy cooking water. This stuff is amazing. I’m going to share more about it in an upcoming post, but trust me, you want it.
Ok, let’s cook some pasta.
Put one package of your favorite short pasta into a big pot, and cover it with cold water by one inch, like so.
Bring the water to a boil, which should take about 8 minutes or so. Once the water comes to a boil, set the timer for 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Yes, it’s that precise. BIG TIME CAVEAT – this method works for gluten free pasta, but the cooking time varies. When I tested it with brown rice pasta, it took about three minutes longer. Start testing it at the 4:30 mark and again at one minute intervals until the pasta is cooked.
Now, we strain! Please, for the love of all that is good and tasty, do NOT pour the pasta water down the drain. Remove the pasta from the pot with a spider or similar handheld strainer (see photo above) into a bowl. Then, reserve at least 2 cups of the pasta water before you dispose of the rest. I’ve heard it does wonders for plants – I’m so trying that.
Now you have perfectly cooked pasta, what should you do with it?
Perhaps you’d be interested in this tasty pasta bake.
Or how about a macaroni salad?
Maybe this Vegetable Bolognese strikes your fancy. Check out the reviews in the comments – it’s a keeper!
Or you could simply top it with a simple tomato sauce like this one.
Oh, you’d like a recipe? Fair enough. And remember that pasta cooking water we set aside earlier? You’re gonna need it. So stash it in the fridge and get ready for goodness.
Off to take my baby brain pills, I mean vitamins.
Cold Water Pasta Method
- 1 12-16 ounces package short pasta (such as penne, rotini, macaroni, etc.)
- 1 Tablespoon salt (optional)
- Place pasta in a large pot, and cover with 1 inch of cold water.
- Bring to boil over high heat (will take approximately 8-10 minutes).
- Once the water has come to a boil, add salt if desired and set a timer for 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
- When the pasta is cooked, strain it out of the cooking water into a large bowl and use as desired.
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Hannah Elizabeth says
Alrighty, Thing #2 unlearned. 😉 I’m pretty sure I’m going to want that tomato sauce…simple is my fave!!
Look at all you’ve been unlearning, Hannah! Soon there won’t be anything left in your brain. 😉
Ive used this method for ages, although simply because I’m lazy and hate sitting around waiting for my pot to boil :). Also, this totally works on spaghetti…although it’s best to lie it flat in a large deep skillet, then cover with water. Cooks so much faster! Add a little butter to said skillet (after draining) and wait for it to brown some…instant delicious noodles.
Well, you may be causing me to amend my post, Autumn! Thanks for sharing! I’m going to check out the spaghetti option very soon.
Nichole Kraft, Food Writing Copyeditor says
Whoa, Beth! Do you have any idea how much easier you just made my life? I get impatient over the dumbest things, and one of those things is waiting for a pot of water to come to a boil so I can cook pasta. I can’t wait to try this method! Does it work with whole wheat pasta, too?
I can’t wait to see what you do with the cooking water! Truth be told, the stuff has always kind of grossed me out, but I keep hearing how wonderful it is. Maybe you can change my mind. 😉
I wish the pasta cooking water was as magical as the cooking water from beans (yes, I’m going down that road). I’m thrilled that I made your life easier! Oh, and it totally works with whole wheat pasta. 🙂 I just posted about what I did with the cooking water, and it’s a precursor to a post about vegan calzones next week. This has been a fun and tasty week at our house, let me tell you. 🙂
Sophia @Veggies don't bite says
Ok first, you’re freaking hilarious. I like you. You make me laugh. Instant friend. Second, I’m making my hubby, aka pasta cook, read this immediately! As in yesterday. Should I wake him from his peaceful slumber for immediate reading? Maybe. It’s that good.
I love instant friends! They’re so much faster than my regular friends. 🙂 Seriously, girl, we are kindred spirits for real. Plus we both have baby boys. Which means we are bonded for life. Those are the rules. I hope you woke your husband/pasta maker up, because I have to agree that it was important information he needed. 🙂
Sophia @Veggies don't bite says
Adorable baby boys at that! Mine just started teething. EEK there go my boobs!
Linda Poland says
I’ve been doing this for years and love it. I also start cooking my oatmeal and rice in cold water!
Linda, really? You have just blown my mind. Will you please share more about how you cook your oatmeal and rice? I’m starting to wonder if everything should be started in cold water. 🙂
OH man. I stand in solidarity with you, friend.
Elaine @ FoodParsed says
I do the exact same thing for cooking pasta! Serious Eats wrote a really great article on the science behind it. I just started doing it because I was too impatient to wait for the water to boil.
Before I saw your post about this I came upon BARILLA pasta pronto- which gives the directions you post. I had always used boiling water to start, often ending up with half cooked fused noodles if not constantly stirred. I found the pasta in the special pronto boxes was no different, and I’ve been using this method ever since! I do cook spaghetti noodles like this, broken in half, I also found I don’t need to drain it at all if I add a small can of tomato paste with a jar of sauce. Not sure if all that starch is okay now that I’m thinking about it…
Also perfect for garlic, oil, nooch sauces
The method works for long noodles too, like spaghetti, but you must use a wide enough pan, e.g. a large skillet
Thanks, Vicki! Since I posted this I have been using it for all pasta shapes, I need to update this method now that I know more about it. I love how there is no limit to what can be learned in the kitchen. 🙂
wow!!! you save so much if my time waiting for the pot to boil! 🙂
I’ve been doing it this way for a number of years, yet I get stunned looks, even from my current family (I’m a private chef). I’ve even proved it by cooking both ways and the cold water method is better than the boiling water “dunk” as I call it! Keep doing what you are doing, your method is correct and yes you are right on all points!
I tried this with Orzo pasta in a larger sauce pan. While the Orzo came out great, I did have a problem with it sticking to the bottom, any suggestions?
Hey Andrew! Happy New Year! <3 I’m so glad the orzo came out well! As for sticking, next time it might help to dry toast it in the pan on medium-low heat for a minute or two and then add the cold water. Once the water is in, stir it really well and then stir it every couple of minutes as it cooks. Hope that helps! 🙂