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Why cook pasta in water and not the sauce?

j
joninaz Jan 22, 2010 07:02 PM

A simple question, but why cook pasta in one pot and the sauce in another? Some chefs seem to finish pasta by folding it into a sauce, but since most pastas (especially dry) only need only a short hit of moisture/heat, why not marry them earlier?

If you make a nice clam sauce, for example, why not simmer/prepare the noodles in that same sauce where they might absorb more flavors, rather than match them at the last minute? Contrast is a valid point.

I ask because I saw a recipe for lasagne where they said to not bother with boiling the noodles... they'd cook and get moist. So it got me thinking outside the box.

Dipping crusty bread into an over easy egg is a divine, last minute merger. But merging an egg and bread before cooking delivers an also-delish french toast.

Thoughts?

  1. j
    jbsiegel Dec 31, 2013 01:01 PM

    I do a stupid-easy baked pasta thing with uncooked noodles, a jar (or equivalent) of sauce and another jar of water. Cover it up with foil and bake. Works just great, and you can add other things (like ground beef, spices, cheese) etc. to it as you like.

    Here's the link: http://www.ehow.com/how_8337568_bake-...

    (I wouldn't serve it to a gourmet, but the family loves it!)

    1. b
      brianprice6 Dec 31, 2013 12:53 PM

      Not all pasta is created equal - and the best cooking treatments vary with the type of pasta you are working with and the type of recipe. For casserole pasta dishes cooking the pasta as you bake the rest of the dish can work fine - as long as you don't way under or overcook it. Typical pastas for these are macaroni, penne, manicotti, lasagna. If you do cook this way you have to make sure there is enough liquid in the baking dish or whatever to cook the pasta. However for pasta dishes with meat and/or vegetable sauces that use spaghetti, linguine, papardelle etc. and which are not baked - you definitely want to cook the pasta separately - otherwise you will have over done or underdone pasta. One minute difference in the cooking of a pasta can make a big difference in the texture. I'm assuming of course that you are trying to cook an Italian style dish…..

      1. JetLaggedChef Dec 30, 2013 02:07 PM

        I've done this successfully, but only in certain sauces with store bought pasta (both fresh and boxed) because they didn't have any starch on the outside. This is common in casseroles and stuff like that.

        Where it really becomes a problem is the amount sauce to pasta ratio. If you think about spaghetti, for example, you'd have like 1/4 cup sauce to 1 cup of noodles.

        How're you going to boil noodles in that tiny amount of liquid?

        This is the intersection where pastas and casseroles collide. :)

        1. f
          foreverhungry Nov 7, 2013 08:07 PM

          If you get the ratios right, it hould work fine. But it begs the question, then, Is the pasta merely a vehicle for the sauce? Becaue cooking the pasta in the sauce, you're likely to get zero pasta taste. If you're using low quality pasta, then maybe that's fine. I personally like to taste the pasta itself, in combination with the sauce. There may be a few instances where this could be an interesting technique, maybe in cooking the pasta in a different liquid to infue the pasta with a certain flavor, then serving with a sauce that compliments that flavoring agent. But cooking the pasta in the sauce so you only taste sauce and no pasta, I don't personally see the point. Just eat a bowl of sauce with some bread, it'll be easier.

          1. m
            mtaylor733 Nov 7, 2013 07:06 PM

            Two wonderful methods:
            Filipino
            http://pinchofyum.com/filipino-pancit
            Italian
            http://fxcuisine.com/Default.asp?lang...

            I've also adapted this to use noodles based on the Filipino version for Japanese and Asian style noodle dishes, but was first inspired by the Italian like risotto method.

            Both are a little time consuming but sooooo worth it!

            1. g
              GH1618 Aug 12, 2012 10:20 AM

              It seems to me that it would be more difficult to get consistent results. Cooking the pasta separately with only water and salt allows for precise control of the process.

              1. iheartcooking Sep 5, 2011 09:45 AM

                I had a Saladmaster lady make us a stovetop lasagne with jarred sauce, lots of raw veggies, and dried bowtie pasta. Seeing pasta cooked like this was the only reason I let her come do this demo (that and they'd feed my family of 5 for free for one night) and I was surprised how delicious it came out! It was not gourmet, obviously, but the pasta cooked fine and the flavor was all there. (sugary commercial tomato sauce+lots of raw garlic+spinach+zucchini+carrot= pretty hard to go wrong.)
                I wouldn't recommend this method for every dish but it IS possible to have good results. You might have to buy the $10k set of 4 pots/pans to accomplish it though...

                7 Replies
                1. re: iheartcooking
                  p
                  PLFgifts Sep 7, 2011 03:05 AM

                  It is perfectly possible to cook pasta in a stock. Many pasta recipes that I've used have the pasta cooked in water that was previously used to cook one of the sauce ingredients, such as fennel or asparagus.

                  Cooking pasta in a thicker sauce is also possible but I don't think you could recreate an Italian style dish just by cooking in the sauce. I have read of dishes where the pasta is first fried and then cooked in the sauce, and others were it is added straight to the sauce, but the raw ingredient of the pasta is then used in a different way, to create a different end product.

                  To use pasta as the Italians use it (which isn't obligatory) does require that it is boiled in water though.

                  1. To properly cook pasta you need 8-12 minutes of a boiling liquid in which the temp is consistent. This would be very difficult to achieve in a sauce without burning it.

                  2. If the sauce was thin enough to work as a suitable cooking medium, it would be too liquid (as Italians eat pasta) to work as a sauce to the pasta.

                  3. Salt in the pasta water is not just for flavour. It is also essential if you want your pasta to be al dente as it stops the inner strand of the pasta collapsing. An edible sauce would have too low a salt content to achieve this.

                  1. re: PLFgifts
                    m
                    Muchlove Sep 7, 2011 03:25 AM

                    The recipe from Alain Ducasse (here: http://labellecuisine.com/Archives/pa...) seems to indicate that cooking pasta in the sauce itself is sometimes done in Italy. So I to cook pasta "as the Italians" do could be said of this technique...

                    1. re: Muchlove
                      p
                      PLFgifts Sep 7, 2011 04:06 AM

                      Muchlove,

                      I can't open up that link for some reason but have found the recipe described by a blogger. Looks incredible. I haven't come across any recipes that cook pasta in that way. I'll definitely be trying it at home. Have you cooked it yourself? I've cooked a broccoli dish at home where you cook the broccoli with the pasta in the same pot.

                      Reading back on my post it is pretty pompous. I meant to say that there were good reasons to cook pasta in water which I didn't think sauce could replicate.

                      Interestingly (and like the Ducasse technique an example of how simplistic my post was) I've heard that in some Southern Italian cooking, they cook spaghetti only for a few minutes and serve seafood sauces with this really hard 'uncooked' pasta.

                      1. re: PLFgifts
                        m
                        Muchlove Sep 7, 2011 04:11 AM

                        I haven't tried it but I found it after reading this thread and I am certainly interested in trying it.

                        I wasn't getting at you because of your post by the way. It seems to me that it is definitely easier to cook pasta in boiling water separately from the sauce and it certainly seems to be the most common method in Italy and abroad. I was just noting that there is at least one area of Italy where they sometimes do things differently!

                        Btw, seems the "cooking in the sauce" technique would be pretty straight forward with fresh pasta. Any thoughts on that?

                        1. re: Muchlove
                          p
                          PLFgifts Sep 7, 2011 04:24 AM

                          You would have thought that cooking fresh pasta in sauce was much easier because it needs less cooking time and presumably doesn't need as much salt to retain texture. I don't really cook enough with it to say though.

                          1. re: Muchlove
                            j
                            jvanderh Sep 7, 2011 07:09 AM

                            Yup, it works.

                    2. re: iheartcooking
                      d
                      dfenton281981 Aug 12, 2012 10:11 AM

                      The point here is valid....its an acceptable, even preferred method for some recipes, and not really a great option for others.....(i make fast stovetop lasagna all the time for my kids, its actually fairly yummy and they love it...its along the same lines as the one you mentioned but i did layer in ricotta, which it didnt call for...I just love it) I think carrots, zucchini, garlic, spinach are my favorite ingredients lol....I add shredded carrots to almost every red sauce I make.

                    3. Delucacheesemonger Sep 4, 2011 07:39 PM

                      When l wrote a newspaper food column, my first recipe was fresh cheese ravioli cooked in the sauce, worked then, still does.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger
                        e
                        escondido123 Sep 5, 2011 10:48 AM

                        I did the same thing for a crowd when I made cheese ravioli but couldn't face boiling them. Put them in large pans, one layer, with sauce under and over (tomato for one, cream for other) and baked. Worked perfectly. (The OP mentions dry pasta, which I have found will not work and if it cooks it gets gluey to my taste.)

                      2. l
                        lidia Mar 22, 2011 07:42 AM

                        Many sauces I would never cook for as long as it takes to cook dried pasta. When I make a clam sauce, for example, I'm only cooking the clams themselves for about 2 minutes, otherwise they get rubbery.

                        I think the key concept is in your penultimate sentence: egg+toast≠french bread. I did have some pasta served to me by a friend who cooked it "in the manner of a risotto". It was fine, but had the characteristics of a lasagna or other baked pasta dish, which were a kind of chewiness and "porousness" (porosity?).

                        1. m
                          Miss Priss Mar 10, 2011 11:15 AM

                          I occasionally make a quick dinner by sauteeing onions and garlic in a pressure cooker, adding good-quality pasta sauce, extra liquid, dry pasta (a short shape like fusilli or penne), and sometimes some sausage and/or vegetables, and cooking for a short time at high pressure. Not something I'd serve to company, but it usually comes out fine and has never seemed to me to be excessively starchy. Can't recall the exact proportions or timing right now, but I use guidelines found in one of Lorna Sass's cookbooks. I especially like not having to wait for a large pot of water to boil on my old, inefficient stove.

                          1. I used to know how to cook... Mar 10, 2011 11:11 AM

                            Hi all,

                            I make manicotti using uncooked tubes. American Beauty brand. The instructions on the 8 oz box say to add 3/4 cup water to the sauce stated in their recipe if using uncooked tubes.

                            Worth noting is it's a whole lot easier to fill uncooked tubes than cooked ones. The manicotti, if anything, is better because the tubes keep their shape.

                            I don't have anything to share about added starch, just hoping the amount of water needed for 8 oz of pasta will be helpful.

                            Lucy

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: I used to know how to cook...
                              greygarious Sep 4, 2011 06:37 PM

                              That's worth trying. The last time I made manicotti I used the CI idea and soaked Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles in hot water until soft, then filled and rolled them like crepes before saucing and baking. Either way is an improvement over struggling with cooked tubes.

                              1. re: I used to know how to cook...
                                lynnlato Sep 7, 2011 05:08 AM

                                Even better, make your manicotti using crepes - it's heavenly and old skool style. ;-)

                              2. firecooked Mar 10, 2011 11:10 AM

                                It all depends. Most of the time when I make pasta the sauce is mostly vegetables and not much sauce, but I make Mac and Cheese with un-cooked mac... it's not a super creamy version, but great flavor. http://blog.firecooked.com/2007/12/03...

                                1. n
                                  Novelli Mar 10, 2011 06:38 AM

                                  I don't know...maybe I'm old in my thinking, but as I see it...the pasta can't dance if cooked in the sauce (which it likes to do). IT would be like trying to breakdance in an overcrowded room.

                                  A nice roll keeps them moving around any prevents sticking. My sauce would be shot if I brought it to a boil for 8-10 minutes. Plus I would worry that the oils in the sauce would prevent full absorbtion into the pasta.

                                  I think I'll stick with cooking it in water. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Novelli
                                    lynnlato Sep 7, 2011 05:07 AM

                                    "breakdance in a crowded room" - ha! Exactly, someone would surely take a hightop to the face when I did my head spins. LOL

                                    But you make the same very valid point that AndrewK 512 made above - pasta is cooked in BOILING water. Boiling sauce is not an option.

                                  2. l
                                    loves2cook4friends Mar 10, 2011 06:01 AM

                                    speaking of cooking pasta, i notice most cooks on television put the pasta right into the recipe they are making and let it cook, to me that recipe would be LOADED with starch, you know when you cook it in water, the water is WHITE. and all that going into your body isn't good at all.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: loves2cook4friends
                                      alanbarnes Mar 10, 2011 06:28 AM

                                      If you believe that putting starch into your body "isn't good at all," you probably shouldn't be eating pasta in the first place.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes
                                        Sooeygun Mar 10, 2011 10:49 AM

                                        Not to mention there isn't that much starch released into the cooking liquid anyway. According to this quick test (no, not a controlled experiment)
                                        http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...
                                        there was only 9 g (1/3 ounce) out of a 1/2 pound of pasta. Wouldn't say that 'loaded' with starch.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes
                                          j
                                          joonjoon Mar 10, 2011 10:58 AM

                                          Kinda silly to be eating solid starch (pasta) while worrying about a little bit leeching into the sauce...

                                      2. s
                                        sushigirlie Mar 10, 2011 05:47 AM

                                        What could go wrong...

                                        1. Delucacheesemonger Mar 10, 2011 04:45 AM

                                          The only pasta l cook in the sauce is fresh cheese ravioli. The ravioli do not get torn up or watery. Other combinations of pasta/sauce l am sure would work and l have used many of them, but easier to control the amount of sauce you are serving if cooked seperately.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger
                                            j
                                            jvanderh Mar 10, 2011 05:45 AM

                                            That's brilliant. Mine often get torn up or watery!

                                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger
                                              viperlush Mar 10, 2011 06:28 AM

                                              Never thought of that. Thank you for the hint.

                                            2. n
                                              nutri Mar 10, 2011 04:36 AM

                                              Most people dont realize that in the process of making pasta at the factory most nutrients are taken out then at the end they're sprayed back on. When you boil the pasta you then remove most nutrients, and then pour them down your sink drain. I believe some reasons we dont bake pasta is because it is easier and faster to boil pasta.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: nutri
                                                alanbarnes Mar 10, 2011 06:28 AM

                                                Um, no. Anybody who's ever seen pasta being made can vouch for the fact that this is totally incorrect. Maybe you're thinking of enriched rice, where the grains are coated with nutrients. Enriched pasta is just made with enriched flour.

                                              2. b
                                                bluqueen77 Feb 16, 2010 11:15 AM

                                                America's Test Kitchen has featured a few skillet pasta recipes in which the pasta is cooked in the sauce. It's an ingenious method! Better suited to some sauces than others, but the end results have been very flavorful and nicely cooked, without requiring too much fuss.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: bluqueen77
                                                  j
                                                  jvanderh Feb 18, 2010 07:10 PM

                                                  This blows my mind. It never even occurred to me to cook pasta in the sauce. Which is kind of dumb, because I've cooked it in soup enough times. . . I'll have to try this!!

                                                2. Sooeygun Jan 26, 2010 02:49 AM

                                                  Regarding the starch released into the water/sauce, I found this article a while ago. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/... Not done in a lab, but showed that very little starch is released into the cooking medium.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Sooeygun
                                                    bushwickgirl Jan 26, 2010 03:49 PM

                                                    Thanks for this, starch content was the point of discussion by some posters here for whether to cook lasagna noodles in advance or not. It was my feeling that starch was not the issue, rather than liquid absorption, but I had no facts to backup my claim. Now I do.

                                                    1. re: Sooeygun
                                                      o
                                                      okayperson Feb 18, 2010 05:24 PM

                                                      Keep in mind the article is only looking at 1/4 cup of pasta water from 8oz of pasta cooked in 3 quarts of water. If you use a whole pound of noodles in your lasagna, 18 grams of starch ends up in there, which using the numbers in the article is just over a tablespoon. That's assuming noodles release the same amount of starch when cooked in less liquid. Whether that affects the flavor / texture of the finished lasagna negatively I have no idea. I guess you'd have to do a head-to-head taste test. It does suggest that you need a bit more liquid than just what will be absorbed by the noodles, to account for thickening due to the starch.

                                                    2. janethepain Jan 25, 2010 08:48 AM

                                                      I made capellini (angel hair pasta) one day and it literally took 1 min in boiling water to cook it (not even the 2-3min it called for on the package). I was thinking the same thing, at least for pasta this thin, that it might be better just to cook it in sauce - I practically just dunked the pasta in boiling water and then when I tried to finish it in sauce, it turned out slightly overcooked :(

                                                      1. MrsCheese Jan 24, 2010 01:57 PM

                                                        The Cooks Illustrated 30 min recipe book uses this technique a lot. It's good for quick meals. That's the way I make Chili Mac and American Chop Suey.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: MrsCheese
                                                          chowser Jan 24, 2010 04:07 PM

                                                          That's how I've always made those, too, just adding pasta to the sauce and stirring often.

                                                        2. s
                                                          smartie Jan 23, 2010 06:29 PM

                                                          I often add small shaped pasta to soups and do not cook first though the soup gets very thick.

                                                          1. paulj Jan 23, 2010 05:09 PM

                                                            Fideua is a Spanish dish in which pasta (usually short lengths of spagetti like pasta, fideaos) are cooked like paella rice - with vegetables, meats and liquid. The Mexican cousin is sopa seca de fideos (dry soup of noodles).

                                                            1. bushwickgirl Jan 23, 2010 03:25 PM

                                                              "the finished dish is never gummy," could it be that the starch has cooked?!
                                                              The amount of starch released into the sauce is negligible and serves to thicken and flavor the sauce. I think posters who have not tried this method and are critical of it, should, so as to have a better understanding of the end result.

                                                              Cooking pasta in sauce via stovetop has it's inherent issues; mindful cooking and frequent stirring being two of them. I prefer the baked method. The technique is doable, however and it's an alternative to cooking pasta in water, for those who want to step outside the standard technique.

                                                              1. alanbarnes Jan 23, 2010 11:28 AM

                                                                I never boil the noodles when making lasagna, and the finished dish is never gummy. And last week my wife had a baked penne dish at L'Osterira del Forno in San Francisco. The kitchen is so tiny that it doesn't have a stove, so presumably the dry pasta is baked directly in the sauce.

                                                                On the stovetop, my primary concern would be uneven cooking. Water has wonderful convective properties; the temperature half an inch below the surface is very close to the temperature half an inch off the bottom. Cooking in sauce would require constant attention to avoid overcooked (and even burnt) pasta at the bottom of the pot and undercooked noodles at the top.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: alanbarnes
                                                                  scubadoo97 Jan 23, 2010 04:26 PM

                                                                  I also never boil noodles for lasagna and it makes since that on a stove top cooking other noodles in sauce would be a problem. Oven cooking would overcome the shortcomings of the stove top.

                                                                2. AndrewK512 Jan 23, 2010 10:56 AM

                                                                  I always thought it was because it is difficult to get the sauce hot enough without ruining the integrity of the ingredients within it, and in enough quantity that it won't stick. I once added fresh pasta noodles to a chicken broth that was only hot but not boiling hot and it all amalgamated into a ball of goopy mess.

                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: AndrewK512
                                                                    f
                                                                    foodsnob14 Jan 23, 2010 11:02 AM

                                                                    When serving pasta you only need to "dress" it in sauce, not bathe it. To cook it properly you would need to have enough sauce to cover it and in turn would be too much sauce to serve on it.

                                                                    1. re: foodsnob14
                                                                      greygarious Jan 23, 2010 11:15 AM

                                                                      That's a matter of preference. As I understand it, the authentic Italian method is to use a minimum amount of sauce per serving of pasta. Americans often prefer more sauce, and like the sauce and pasta to meld, in which case it's feasible to cook the pasta in a thinned sauce, stirring often, until the pasta is tender and the sauce the desired consistency.

                                                                      1. re: foodsnob14
                                                                        c
                                                                        cinnamon girl Jan 25, 2010 02:17 PM

                                                                        The picture of the Ducasse recipe in Bushwickgirl's link above doesn't look overdressed though. The noodles look coated as opposed to bathed in the sauce.

                                                                      2. re: AndrewK512
                                                                        lynnlato Sep 7, 2011 05:02 AM

                                                                        I think you make a valid point and it's been overlooked. If you need to boil the sauce in order to cook the pasta in it, well surely that will compromise the deliciousness of the sauce.

                                                                        I think you're right, the temperature of the sauce is a key reason why noodles are not cooked in the sauce. Of course, it seems there could be several other reasons as well.

                                                                        1. re: AndrewK512
                                                                          m
                                                                          megjp Aug 12, 2012 10:05 AM

                                                                          I think AndrewK's point is that (fresh, at least) pasta is best cooked at a boil but (I'd wager esp. in cream or delicate sauces) adding it to the sauce uncooked then bringing the sauce to a boil to cook the noodles while avoiding goop would ruin the sauce while saving the pasta.

                                                                        2. todao Jan 23, 2010 10:12 AM

                                                                          It's not a matter of how much water the pasta absorbs, it's a matter of how much starch it releases into the sauce liquid. Obviously, if you add enough liquid to any sauce it will accommodate the the starch released from the pasta. However, if you're working with a recipe that involves a measured amount of sauce (e.g. lasagna) in a vessel that is filled with pasta and other ingredients and then bathed in a sauce before baking, your starch has nowhere to go except into the limited amount of sauce liquid in the dish. That means your starch saturation of the liquid will be significantly greater than it would have been if you had precooked or par-boiled the pasta. It ain't rocket science, but it is science and denial of the realities won't make the prepared dish taste any better.

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: todao
                                                                            f
                                                                            foiegras Jan 26, 2010 05:40 PM

                                                                            When making soup with pasta, I always cook the pasta in the soup ... but have noticed a gummy starchy mess collected at the bottom. In a broth-based soup, it sinks to the bottom, but I would think that wouldn't be the case in other types of sauces.

                                                                            I don't even finish my pasta in the sauce. I buy good imported pasta because I like the way it tastes ... I want to be able to taste it along with the sauce.

                                                                            1. re: foiegras
                                                                              d
                                                                              dfenton281981 Aug 12, 2012 10:01 AM

                                                                              I never put pasta in my soup for that reason. It also never reheats well, the noodles get over-cooked. I just make the noodles separate, then add however much I want to each bowl before right before serving, store them in the fridge separately.... That way I can control how long they are cooked again when I heat up the leftovers....

                                                                              1. re: dfenton281981
                                                                                f
                                                                                foiegras Aug 22, 2012 04:19 PM

                                                                                Yes, whatever pasta I cook must be eaten at that meal! The only pasta I believe can be left over is pasta in casserole type dishes. If I've made a big batch of soup, I transfer enough for the current meal to a sauce pan and add the pasta. If a noodle goes astray, the dogs help me out. There are no words for a noodle that has been sitting in soup in the refrigerator ...

                                                                                Pasta can be cooked at a simmer, it just takes longer.

                                                                          2. r
                                                                            rainey Jan 22, 2010 08:17 PM

                                                                            Clotilde Desoulier did this entry on what she calls "absorption pasta" years ago. http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archi...

                                                                            You can do it equally well with a tomato-based sauce. It's a unique method and works quite well.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: rainey
                                                                              bushwickgirl Jan 23, 2010 02:21 AM

                                                                              Yes, I agree, cooking pasta in as well-flavored stock or slightly diluted tomato-based sauce works just fine. Cooked by this method, short pastas are a better choice than long. I've never experienced any starchy issues, I think the amount of starch released is negligible and serves to thicken and flavor the sauce. I can't tell you how much water pasta absorbs when cooked but the pasta mass increases by about 48%. That's why you can feed four people, average servings, on a lb of the stuff. Mrbushwick and I can eat a lb of pasta between us, however.

                                                                              I cook, as Grey mentions, orzo in diluted broth and finish it in the oven, like a pilaf. A high-sided wide skillet works best; it gives the pasta room to absorb the sauce or stock.

                                                                              By cooking in suce or stock, you're enhancing the flavor of a rather bland product, just as you would salt pasta water "as salty as the sea." Why not use more complex flavor, rather than just salt?
                                                                              Why take out the stock pot and boil water, if you don't have to?

                                                                              I've been using dried lasagna nodles without par-boiling for a number of years; I was initially skepical but my SIL recommended using dried noodles, pre-no boil days, and I was tired of the extra boiling step, anyway. I experimented with the dried version and a diluted sauce, and have always had excellent results. The important step is that the sauce must be looser to account for absorption.

                                                                              I've also tried the fresh and no-cook sheets with great success.

                                                                              This link is for another absorption pasta discussion and recipe, with potatoes, olive oil and basil, courtesy of Alain Ducasse:
                                                                              http://thepauperedchef.com/2007/08/risotto-style-p.html

                                                                              This NYT article is a bit off-cooking-in-sauce topic; it discusses the variations of the amount of water needed to cook pasta, FYI:
                                                                              http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/din...

                                                                              1. re: bushwickgirl
                                                                                c
                                                                                cinnamon girl Jan 25, 2010 02:15 PM

                                                                                I've made stove-top skillet lasagnas with both fresh and regular dried noodles (not the ones specified no-boil) with good results. The last couple I made weren't even trying to be the semi-layered lasagnas of the earlier incarnations.

                                                                                The Ducasse link in Bushwickgirl's post is interesting. The recipe stresses not cooking it too quickly to avoid gumminess. This explains the success of my stove-top efforts as I (inadvertently) cooked them slowly. The recipe makes the allusion to risotto-style pasta.

                                                                              2. re: rainey
                                                                                i
                                                                                Ideefixed Jan 25, 2010 03:12 PM

                                                                                She made a single serving. I'm cooking for more than 1, and I think that the time she spent adding the water ended up being more work than just boiling the noodles. She was also cooking in broth and oil, not ragu.

                                                                                "Add the pasta, and stir continuously for 2 minutes. Add stock or water to just about cover the pasta -- about a cup -- and lower the heat to medium-low. Cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. 5 minutes into the cooking, add the zucchini, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Taste the pasta for doneness: if it isn't quite done and all the liquids have been absorbed, add a little more stock or water, cover, and cook for a few more minutes before tasting again."

                                                                                It sounds fine, but it's too much work for me.

                                                                                1. re: Ideefixed
                                                                                  greygarious Jan 25, 2010 04:30 PM

                                                                                  Like the difference between risotto and boiled rice, pasta cooked in sauce will have more flavor than boiled in water. Same timing for multiple servings as a single one.

                                                                                  1. re: greygarious
                                                                                    d
                                                                                    dfenton281981 Aug 12, 2012 09:57 AM

                                                                                    Boiling the noodles in stock or broth would add just as much, if not more flavor...

                                                                              3. greygarious Jan 22, 2010 07:49 PM

                                                                                Of course you can cook pasta in the sauce, as long as you dilute the sauce accordingly. I've since forgotten how much water a pound of dry pasta absorbs - I think it may have been a quart but this is easy enough to measure by weighing the cooked pasta. Dilute your sauce by that amount minus 3-4 ounces (you can always add more water once the dish is nearly done, if need be). There will be some additional thickening of the sauce.
                                                                                Some folks cook small pasta shapes like orzo in broth, which creates a riceless "risotto" when the proportions have less liquid than you'd want for a saucier finished dish.

                                                                                A few years ago the big name tomato sauce manufacturers marketed a diluted sauce intended for baked pasta dishes but it didn't seem to catch on - people figured out that it was cheaper to buy the regular and dilute it. It was not extremely diluted, but it was designed for use with no-bake brands of pasta like Barilla lasagna, which is rolled a lot thinner than regular lasagna noodles.

                                                                                The main reason not to cook the pasta and sauce together is when you are making enough sauce for extra batches to save for future dishes. Stovetop dishes would require frequent stirring and diligent monitoring to prevent drying out, but baked dishes are no-fuss. I really like the egg noodle flavor and texture of the Barilla no-bake lasagna sheets and no longer buy anything else for manicotti and lasagna.

                                                                                1. Cherylptw Jan 22, 2010 07:35 PM

                                                                                  I don't agree with some of the other posters..Most pasta is only in water for about 8-10 minutes so there is not that much starch released that would render a sauce too starchy, especially if you're going to add some of the cooking water at the end. I have cooked pasta in sauce before, particularly, something like penne in a tomato based sauce and angel hair in clam sauce without any problems. You do have to allow for extra thickness from the pasta somewhat and adjust the liquid in your sauce but it can be done.

                                                                                  1. i
                                                                                    Ideefixed Jan 22, 2010 07:09 PM

                                                                                    Because the starch released by the pasta in the water will make your sauce gummy, not yummy. (I can't believe I wrote that.)

                                                                                    The pasta releases starch in the water, and needs quite a bit of water to dilute the starch. THen, when pasta's not quite done, plop it in the pan with your sauce and some of the water, and the pasta finishes cooking and and then can soak up the flavors of the sauce.

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Ideefixed
                                                                                      todao Jan 22, 2010 07:18 PM

                                                                                      Ditto - emphasis on "quite a bit of water".
                                                                                      "Gummy, not yummy"? That's a winner :>)
                                                                                      When it comes of lasagna, some recipes suggest using it without cooking. However, a lot of those use fresh pasta rather than dried. I will sometimes use fresh pasta in a lasagna without pre-cooking but I would never use dried pasta without at least par-boiling it.

                                                                                      1. re: todao
                                                                                        c
                                                                                        cocktailhour Jan 23, 2010 11:23 AM

                                                                                        I have used dried pasta successfully in lasagna, both regular and no-boil noodles. I use extra red sauce. The lasagna come out a bit less saucier than if I precooked the noodles, but I like it that way. I have also used fresh pasta.

                                                                                        based on my lasagna experience, as to other pasta being cooked in the sauce, it seems like it would be hard to have the pasta cook properly in the right amount of sauce and have it then be in the portions you want for the final dish, at least dried pasta. and why? boiling pasta separately is not hard.

                                                                                        1. re: cocktailhour
                                                                                          s
                                                                                          sunflwrsdh Jan 26, 2010 04:16 PM

                                                                                          I have also very successfully made lasagna with dry lasagna noodles without cooking the noodles first. However, lasagna is baked in the over, and I do use extra red sauce, and also cover the lasagna with foil,for part of the cooking time which I think has the effect of sort of steaming the noodles. I don't think cooking pasta on top of the stove in sauce would have the same effect, although I have never tried it.

                                                                                      2. re: Ideefixed
                                                                                        Indirect Heat Jan 22, 2010 07:49 PM

                                                                                        /agree

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