Most people use five litres or more of water to boil pasta "because that's how it's always been done". What if you could get by with a lot less water and still have perfect noodles? Here's how.
Photo by Jakob Montrasio.
Grandma was a smart cookie but it turns out she might not have given you the best advice when it comes to cooking pasta. Turns out it's not really necessary to use enough water to fill a bathtub just to make a couple servings of spaghetti.
Food science wizard Harold McGee did some experimenting and discovered a pound of spaghetti cooks in as little as 1.4 litres of water, as long as you start with cold water and stir the pot more often. He also has a theory on why this works:
Because the noodles absorb water only very slowly at temperatures much below the boil, so little happens to them in the few minutes it takes for the water to heat up. And no matter how starchy the cooking water is, the solid noodle surfaces themselves are starchier, and will be sticky until they're lubricated by sauce or oil.
Standard spaghetti noodles take 18 minutes to cook using McGee's methods, but noodles of a different thickness - angel hair pasta, for instance - will take less time, so you'll need to tinker a little bit to figure out what cooking times work for your favourite pasta. Once you get it right, you'll save some time and dimes not boiling up a huge pot of water that just gets dumped down the drain.
Bucking the system to make noodles in only a few inches of water is pretty heady stuff, but that's not the only kitchen trend that's not really a hard and fast rule (did you know you don't have to refrigerate ketchup?). What rebellious kitchen habits do you have? Talk about them in the comments.