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Cooking Pasta in Advance

Is there a way to cook and hold pasta for an hour or two? I have always thought restaurants must do this as they couldn't make a fresh pot of pasta for every order...or maybe they do! Any help you can provide would be great. Thought it might make it easier to serve pasta for a large group.

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  1. Of course you can. You can reheat it by dipping it into boiling water... or by pouring a kettle of boiling water over it in a colander... or in these modern days by putting it into the microwave for a minute!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kajikit

      I believe most restaurants that don't cook pasta a la minute use one of two methods. First, as mentioned above- cook until almost done, then dunk briefly into boiling water, or secondly, cooking about 3/4 of the usual time, then finishing in the boiling water, testing for the degree of how al dente you want it, as if cooking from the start. Might want to practice with a small amount of pasta before you do a party to get the timing down, keeping in mind carryover cooking.

      1. re: markabauman

        or they undercook it, toss it liberally with olive oil to prevent stickiness, then spread on a sheet pan to cool quickly.

        what decent places do is keep a pot of boiling water always going with inserts and yes, they cook each plate to order.

        if the op MUST do this, maybe a heavier style of pasta, like rigatoni, undercooked, sauced, then kept covered in a low oven until serving time then present in a chafer or a huge platter? not sure what defines a "large group" for you or why it can't be cooked to order while rearranging other things on your time line?

    2. You have to cook it a couple of minutes just shy of being done, then shock and hold in cold water. Finish cooking when required. If you cook it and try to hold it in the hot cooking liquid, you'll end up with a mushy mess.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pikawicca

        Second that. A tried and true method for me personally, and when I was in the restaurant business.

      2. Good Italian restaurants do cook pasta to order, but many use the methods described in the other posts. If you intend to hold pasta already sauced for your group, it is better to make a pasta al forno or a pasta that can be served at room temperature (such as a "cold" pasta, which should never actually be cold). I rely on pasta e fagioli, room temp in summer, easy to reheat in winter, or some sort of pasta timbale. Don't try to hold spaghetti with sauce. If you simply must hold a pasta with sauce, use something sturdy like rigatoni, and cook it very al dente. Also, don't cover the dish completely, leave a slit for moisture to escape while it waits.

        1. I only do this when I have to, but the best method I've found for pre-cooking and holding pasta is to cook it a touch more al dente than normal (and of course, never rinse the pasta), and then reheat it over steam when it's time to use it. The minute or two of steam actually finishes the pasta, retains the proper al dente texture, and it tastes freshly made.

          1. Thank you everyone for these good ideas...I will try them out before my next large group. I like to spend time with my guests and as a result, try to have as much ready to serve/finish as possible before they arrive.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Tripper

              i entertain frequently, and like you, try to do as much as possible in advance. that being said, unless i'm serving a baked pasta dish, like stuffed shells or some kind of lasagna, i NEVER do pasta ahead. the quality suffers and i don't like needlessly cutting corners.

            2. You can of course do it, but it's mediocre and has to be covered up with generous saucing, which kinda defeats the point. Any time an absorbent starch (pasta, noodles, rice) is held in liquid, it will continue to absorb water and lose texture. This one reason I tend never to order pasta in restaurants unless I know they treat pasta with respect, because while the pasta done this way is not necessarily bad, it's usually not as good as what careful cooking at home will produce with relatively little effort and cost, and I don't see the point of paying for food in that context.

              The best thing to do is to set your pot to boil well in advance. Since pasta only takes a dozen minutes at most to cook, there's no good reason for the home cook to cook pasta in advance unless it's being put to another use (lasagne, baked with sauce, salad, etc.),

              1 Reply
              1. re: Karl S

                Thanks everyone for the great suggestions! I tried Pikawicca's method..."You have to cook it a couple of minutes just shy of being done, then shock and hold in cold water. Finish cooking when required" last night with rigatoni and it was perfect. I couldn't detect any loss of quality. Texture was ideal...al dente. And of course I am always happy to spend more time with my friends...less in the kitchen cooking once they arrive!