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"Muddy" pasta water (NY Times)

From yesterday's NYTimes, (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/din...), an article about the greatness of pasta water saved and used as a sauce thickener.

I was wondering- in the article Bill Buford (re:Babbo kitchen) mentions that over the course of the night, the pasta water in the pasta cooker goes from "clear to cloudy to muddy" and then goes on to talk about how this "mud" is essentially culinary gold.

How would one achieve a similar feat (muddy water) at home- is this done by continually cooking and recooking pasta in the same water? I cant imagine the pasta quality itself would be the same after each batch if this is the way....any ideas?

p.s. To the mods- I realize this refers for media content, but the question itself, I believe, belongs on the home cooking board as the reference to the article is merely the inspiration for the Q and not the Q itself.

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  1. I suppose you could cool and refrigerate your pasta water for re-use but unless you make pasta every couple of days it would probably turn foul in time. And obviously you'd need to keep adding fresh water to compensate for the volume absorbed by the pasta.
    As McGee demonstrates, you can use less water than the usual recommendation. See this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/583856. It is another way to conserve energy in making pasta, and I'm a convert. I use a nearly-full 3qt pot to a pound of pasta. There's maybe a quart or so left after the pasta is done. If I WERE going to save that, it wouldn't take up too much refrigerator space.

    5 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      I cook my pasta in less water, also. The leftover pasta water gets used only if I'm making soup or bread dough. My fridge is too full to save it. I put some on dog kibble for a treat, and pour the rest around my rosebush for my pet earthworms. For this reason, I don't salt the cooking water -- not sure if they'll like it!

      1. re: neverlate

        This article really made me laugh out loud. For ages, I cooked pasta in a good deal less water than typically called for. It always seemed fine to me. But as I became an informed cook, I learned this was wrong. So, for another span of ages, I've cooked pasta in lots of rolling water. I don't think I ever stopped to ask myself if it was any better than what i'd turned out in my uninformed days. And i don't think it was, as I picked up on al dente very early on. Never started with cold water, though. Too many years have gone by for me to be sure of my memory, but I do think I'm recalling that starchier, thicker cooking water at the end, that McGee writes about. Think I'll be going back to my old ways!

        And Neverlate, I'd love to nourish my earthworms! Are most plants tolerant of pasta cooking water, or only roses?

        1. re: Old Spice

          I've used the pasta cooking water (and the veggie steaming water, the lettuce washing water, etc, etc) on my herbs for several summers. They love it.

          1. re: Old Spice

            Old Spice, Sooeygun answered your question. I just wanted to add that you can go into a place like Starbucks and ask for their used coffee grounds. It makes a good mulch, coffee filters and all!

        2. re: greygarious

          FWIW, I e-mailed Mr. McGee about how successfully pasta can be prepared by turning off the burner once the pasta is added to the boiling water. He replied that he'd received more responses to that column than to any others he's written, and will be addressing some of them on his blog: http://news.curiouscook.com/

        3. Whenever I make an oil sauce like aglio e olio or clam sauce, I always add a dipperful of the water from the pasta pot. Not sure how much starch is in there, but it is integral to the sauce's consistancy. I doubt that I'm going to start cooking pasta in less water to concentrate it though.
          You can do the same thing with potato water, like add it to gravy.

          1. I always save a cup or so of pasta water when I'm adding pesto, to thin the sauce.

            1. Interesting. I've always used the water from boiling potatoes to make gravy. Now I'll show a little more respect for pasta water too.

              4 Replies
              1. re: rainey

                Waste not, want not, is my new motto!

                1. re: coll

                  Or as DH says, "Waste, want."

                  1. re: rememberme

                    A man of few words, that's refreshing!

                2. re: rainey

                  My extremely frugal grandmother used to make "parsley soup" from potato water. I think it started with a roux, and then the potato water was stirred in slowly, and then a large amount of finely chopped parsley was added. I remember eating it, just not sure how it was made.

                3. Ah, but as I read the article in "The New York Times," the score among the two experts was "High Volume of Water": (2) and "Low Volume of Water": (0). Chef Bastianich thought that both the flavor and the texture suffered and Chef Hazan thought that it took a lot more work to make the pasta cook successfully.

                  As for the remarks by Bill Buford in "Heat", what he actually wrote was that the water went from clear, to good, to disgusting. One of his fellow cooks (a woman, as I recall) remarked that she would never order pasta close to closing time because it would be dunked in the disgusting end-of-the-evening pasta water. Buford's point was that mid way through the evening, the pasta water was a great thickener for sauces, but it was repulsive late in the evening.

                  To answer your question, Strawberryfields, to get the super thickening pasta water that Buford was talking about, I think that you would have to use the same water to cook many batches of pasta (as a restaurant routinely does), where the water would absorb increasingly greater quantities of starch during the course of the evening.