Baked ziti, lasagna, and other baked pasta dishes are definitely crowd pleasers, but cooking the pasta first always seems like a tiresome extra step. Good news: You don't have to bother boiling the pasta when a simple soak will do.
Photo by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.
In an excerpt of his book The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science on Serious Eats, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt explains why it's unnecessary to boil your pasta and then cook it in the oven: A 30-minute soak in warm water will make the pasta absorb as much water as it would if it were boiled, and that presoaked pasta will bake just fine in the oven.
But what it does mean for a home cook is this: any time you are planning on baking pasta in a casserole, there is no need to precook it. All you have to do is soak it while you make your sauce, then combine the two and bake. Since the pasta's already hydrated, it won't rob your sauce of liquid, and the heat from the oven is more than enough to cook it while the casserole bakes. If you taste them side by side, you can't tell the difference between precooked pasta and simply soaked pasta. Think of what this means for lasagna! I know of at least six different common dental procedures that I'd rather have performed than to have to parcook lasagna noodles.
That means no waiting for water to boil, standing over the stove stirring the pasta, and no discomfort handling layers of hot pasta.
We've noted before that soaked pasta can be quickly cooked in about a minute (great if you're doing huge batches of pasta), but soaking is especially useful for baked pasta dishes. It's just easier than boiling — and who doesn't like easier when the results come out just as delicious?
Check out the post below for more science and your next go-to pasta sauce.