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Nov 10, 2010 10:58 AM

Cooking pasta with only a small quantity of water?

I recently read a reference to this technique but there were no details about how much water and what kind of pot/pan to use. Does anyone know about this technique? Has anyone tried it?

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  1. It's ok, full pot of water is easier/simpler unless you really want to infuse the pasta wih flavorings in the water.

    6 Replies
    1. re: amokscience

      I completely disagree. The less water, the faster, more energy-efficient, and easier it is. Here is a thread about this:

      I bring 2.5-3 qts water to boil in the turned-off method for cooking a pound of pasta, regardless of shape.

      If you are willing to stir the pasta as it absorbs water, about 2 cups water per cup pasta, as if making risotto. The amount will vary depending on the size and shape of the pasta. Once the pasta is the desired texture, pour off any excess water - or add more if it's too al dente once the water is absorbed.

      1. re: greygarious

        I do the same thing, greygarious. Much easier than lifting a giant pot of water off the stove to drain, too.

        1. re: greygarious

          lol my 'full pot' is about 2-3 qts. Haven't tried the "turn off the boil" method though. Will have to try and see.

          I'll say the microwave pasta devices I've tried resulted in very poor pasta textures.

          1. re: amokscience

            Well made some plain jane spaghetti using the "turn off after boil" method and the pasta came out with a pretty good texture. Probably need to do a bit more comparing across the pastas I like to use but Kenji usually does a pretty thorough job.

            I tried a soak method a while ago with mixed results. I forget where I read about it but you just soaked the noodles overnight then boiled for a couple minutes to bring them up to temp.

            1. re: amokscience

              To me, worrying about the energy used to simmer pasta water seems a little obsessive and kind of missing the forest for the trees.

              1. re: will47

                Well let grey know. I'm not one to care about the energy used to heat a pot for 10 minutes. Not worrying about boil over or hot handles is nice though. I'm definitely not willing to sit there and stir the pasta.

      2. I think that Harold McGee talks about this in his new book -- you can cook raw pasta in a frying pan and even start with cold water and it makes no difference. Plus, the water that's left is perfect for adding to your sauce since it will be concentrated with lots of starch from the pasta.

        1 Reply
        1. re: roxlet

          I think some of the findings were summarized here a while back:

          I found it really interesting. I don't always find it necessary to use quite as much water as necessary, but I try not to crowd the pan too much either. For a bit less than a lb of dry pasta, I'll usually use a 5.5 qt saucepan filled up to like 3/4 full.

        2. You may want to take a look at the article and discussion on Serious Eats Food Lab where they actually touch on the pasta 'myth'.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Novelli

            Well, they call it a myth but give a half-assed analysis. The fact is that the average temperature of a small amount of boiling water will drop more than a large amount of boiling water when the pasta is dropped in. Indeed, everyday experience shows that a large pot of water won't stop boiling at all. The article provides no analysis of this effect, but instead makes a high-school physics conservation of energy argument that is beside the point. The article also provides no analysis of the effect of cooking pasta in starchy water, which is what will happen if you use a small amount of water.

            1. re: sushigirlie

              "pot of water won't stop boiling at all" Disputable. My everyday experience tells me otherwise, high school physics aside. A pound of pasta dropped into 5 quarts of boiling water, the "standard" measure for proper pasta cooking, according to Harold McGee, will cease boiling for at least a minute, depending on pot shape, ambient temperate and btus. How large a pot is large, in your estimation, for this not to happen, a gallon? That's a pointless amount to water to use when cooking a pound of pasta just to avoid losing the boiling action for a minute, which is not necessary to cook pasta anyway. Pasta can be started in cold water, with successful results.

              The boiling point for a small amount of water may drop more than a large amount when the same amount of a food product is added, but it returns to a boil faster as well.

              As for leftover starch or cooking pasta in starchy water, an experiment by Robert Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, found that 8 oz pasta noodles cooked in three quarts of water yielded 9 grams of starch or 0.3 oz, pretty minimal, and are not likely to negatively affect the outcome of the product even at higher concentrations in less water. I have cooked pasta in highly concentrated starchy water with no obvious detriment to the product.

          2. Not to be cranky, but I'm not sure what the point is, unless you're doing fideua.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Spot

              The point is probably to help us to not use the gas required to bring a giant pot of water to the boil, nor the time. Back when I was cooking on my soulful but grossly underpowered antique range, I could just about put the pasta water on to heat, then go out shopping for the sauce ingredients and be back in plenty of time. Had I known what is here revealed I could have eaten a lot of meals a lot earlier!

            2. In college, one of my roommates mother used to visit and she would make little shell pasta with tomato sauce.
              She would first fry the pasta in a little oil, then add a can of tomato sauce to cook it until tender.
              I loved it. Tried to duplicate it a couple of times, nothing as good as V's mom's.
              Anyway, no water added whatsoever, but a small pasta shape seemed to be key.
              They were Mexican-American, don't know if this is a regional preparation.

              She also taught me to make green spaghetti and her Mom's tuna casserole is the one I still dream of.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rabaja

                This thread might be of interest to you, rabaja:


                For the OP - As for amount of cooking water for pasta, I cook in as little water as possible, while getting the results I want, about 2 qts of liquid to one lb of pasta. Thorough stirring after adding the pasta to the water, until the boiling returns, is important with less water, but I'm not sure if it's actually more important than with larger amounts of water.

                I do not continually boil, just simmer until done.

                1. re: rabaja

                  yes this is spanish, see fideo. also commonly mexican.
                  i recently just soaked lasagna noodles, then just baked. turned out great.
                  this hawaiian pasta salad brings pasta, eggs, potato, to boil, heat off let sit. works very well.