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Breaking long pasta -- ok or no-no?

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Pasta is a staple in my diet, and spaghetti with my favorite tuna-tomato sauce is something I eat pretty much weekly. There are only 2 people in my household, and while we sometimes have people over and/or want to cook enough pasta to have leftovers, often we just want enough to feed us for that night. On those nights it seems silly (not to mention wasteful of water and energy) to fill our big dutch oven with water in order to cook a small amount of pasta. However, the dutch oven is the only pot we have that long pasta fits in without breaking it.

I've heard that you're not supposed to break pasta (my boyfriend nearly fainted the first time he saw me do it), but no one seems to be able to explain why. Can you break pasta? If not, how are you supposed to cook a small amount of pasta without using a huge pot?

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  1. I don't break it. If it doesn't fit completely into the pot, I'll let it sit for a second and it softens up enough to get it all in there.

    1. Sometimes, I break. Most times I don't. I remember reading that it was considered bad luck to break pasta in Asian cultures, so maybe that has something to do with it.

      I know that when I'm cooking a small amount of pasta, and I'm not using a lot of water, I sort of push it in. I add the pasta to boiling water and then slowly push it down as it becomes more flexible until it's fully submerged.

      2 Replies
      1. re: fantasyjoker

        I never break it. Eating it whole is a part of the experience for me. I use fantasyjoker's method of slowly pushing it down until it's submerged.

        1. re: fantasyjoker

          To the Chinese, noodle dishes (especially at birthday banquets) symbolize wishes for the honoree's long life. To cut or break these noodles (even on your own plate!) is to symbolically wish the honoree an early death!

        2. Definite no-no in Italian culture.

          9 Replies
          1. re: bropaul

            If you want to be sure you are getting freshly cooked pasta in a restaurant you don't know or that is not high end, ask for it broken in half. They will have to cook it fresh for you or refuse your request.

            At home, just make it however you want. It will taste the same.

            1. re: RandyB

              I concur. Let's not make cooking pasta unnecessarily restrictive. Pasta broken in half, then cooked, is no different than the full length pasta cooked without breaking. Unless, of course, your pan is so small that the longer pieces don't cook properly. Just about everything you ever wanted or need to know about pasta is included in this link:
              http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/05/ho...

              1. re: todao

                I agree. Whatever works for you is fine. I have to admit that sometimes when I eat spaghetti alone, I cut it in half with my fork.

                1. re: todao

                  Good heavens, yes. I've broken pasta many times and not broken pasta many times. Just the same. As OP states, when just two of us, why waste the water and the energy.

              2. re: bropaul

                <<Definite no-no in Italian culture>>

                I respectfully disagree. I had two Italian-born Nonnas who both broke pasta so that they could get it in the pot without standing over it, waiting for it to soften. Maybe when you are cooking for twenty you need to think about being more pragmatic. Obviously, the size of their pots had nothing to do with it, and they were certainly cooking more than a single one-pound box at a time. It has nothing to do with Italian "culture".

                1. re: RGC1982

                  I feel like it's something people might do at home, but they wouldn't serve it to guests -- at least, in my family.

                  1. re: piccola

                    If I were serving, say, broccoli with pasta and wanted to celebrate my own Calabrian roots, I certainly would break long ziti in half like my nonna and mama did, and mix in with the gralicky, brothy, red hot peppery broth. With toasted breadcrumbs on top.

                    1. re: bob96

                      wooooo.

                      1. re: bob96

                        Fair enough. I certainly wouldn't be put off by broken pasta, though I do prefer it the length it comes in. Then again, I mostly eat short pasta...

                2. I break it and refuse to feel bad or in anyway unchowish for doing so. It works for you in your situation, so why not?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: debbiel

                    My sentiments exactly. Most people have enough trouble twirling spaghetti. I have often been asked to give lessons.

                  2. are the pasta police going to arrest you if u break it?
                    im not italian...so i dont think it matters (notice i said i)

                    like others have said...whatever way u want to cook pasta in your own kitchen is fine with me

                    (just for the record..i have broken spaghetti and i have just thrown it in the pot and let it work its way down)

                    and sometimes...i nuke it a bowl of water..usually just small amounts for me..

                    1. I see a few confession in here; I'll add one.
                      I got a Fasta Pasta as a Christmas gift.
                      http://www.amazon.com/Fasta-Pasta-The...
                      Never thought I'd use it, but I needed a quick lunch one day and decided to try it out. Worked pretty darn good. Not something I'd use every day but for a quick meal for one or two it's kinda neat.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: todao

                        We use this Fasta Pasta cooker ALL the time. Have never gone back to boiling pasta on the stove top since. This is so much more convenient and way less clean up. Plus we do small portions anyway.

                        One key is ADD SALT. For some reason the cooker instructions don't have you adding salt to the cooking water and that is essential for flavor. Once you do, it tastes just like stove-top cooked pasta.

                        1. re: audreyhtx1

                          Wow. I got to get me one of them. Especially during the summer the idea of not having to have to steam up the kitchen from the big pot of water for boiling the 4 1/2 oz of pasta that I make for the two of us.

                          Just put into my amazon cart. Now have to find another $16 to spend for the free shipping...

                          1. re: junescook

                            A friend gave me the Pasta N More thing, which is equivalent. I really didn't want or need it, and when I looked online at reviews, there were many about it giving off a chemical taste. The recycling number is 7, which is one of the bad ones. So I never used it. You may want to do more research before buying the Fasta Pasta. I don't know what that one's made of. As I posted previously, steeping the pasta in off-heat in boiling water (essentially the same thing as the microwave gadgets) works great, without an additional kitchen tchotchke.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              I studied up on the plastics used and was convinced they were safe for this application. No chemical taste whatsoever and none of the reviews complain of such. I love not having to deal with a huge pot of water.

                      2. me mum used ta break it into half inch pieces. Dat defeats the point of long pasta.
                        Seems like you get the same experience, with it broke in half. still twirly, still takes sauce the same. so enjoy!

                        1. Breaking pasta is seen as "bad luck" to many or most older Italian-American cultures.

                          If I want long, I leave it alone. For easier meals at home that leave the sauce on the plate instead of flying around the table, then I break in half.

                          Then, there's always the Maloik (Malocchio) to deal with...OMG.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: jjjrfoodie

                            There's one break it in half tradition: the long ziti, called zitoni, that are now hard to find and longer than spaghetti, used to be broken in half (yielding about a 4" piece), tossed with broccoli and oil and garlic, or even a meat ragu. I used to love the sound of my mom cracking it into a bowl before cooking. You can this form at well-stocked Italian shops It's really too long to eat as is. Greeks use it full length to build pastitsio.

                            1. re: jjjrfoodie

                              i dont know any fatura's around here..

                              1. re: srsone

                                Amazon to the rescue --> http://www.stylefeeder.com/i/xmk9mzlq...

                            2. "Break 1 pound spaghetti into quarters..."
                              So begins a favorite recipe!

                              1. I don't know what you mean by a small amount of pasta. But I always whip out the large deep pot for a little bit or pound of pasta, and when the water is at a rollicking boil, I drop the pasta in. It will lean standing for awhile, then melt on down. Once it's down, I make sure to use the pasta fork thingy to separate the noodles. No breaking the noodles, it's bad luck. Plus it's not fun to eat,! You must grab a tablespoon and with your fork full of pasta, twirl! In the bowl of your spoon, you should end up with a neat little nest of pasta noodles that fit perfectly in your mouth!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: chef chicklet

                                  Yeah, I tried that. My mom always responded with "take smaller bites". Can't win ..... doesn't take more than about one or two long pasta noodles twirled up into a bit so big mom wouldn't approve.

                                  1. re: todao

                                    we were never allowed to eat pasta with a spoon, zoinks.

                                    to the op, why not use a different shape? something like gemelli or orechiette would be better with that type of sauce. that being said, it's your house, your pot. :)

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      MY mom from New York was pretty classy. Even though French someone owned an Italian Restaurant, if I remember, Bertolini's or something. She taught us all how to twirl the pasta in the spoon keeping the spoon on our plates of course, then eating the twirled pasta on your fork. No napkins tucked under our chin, always in our lap with the other hand. But we were allowed to enjoy our pasta this way. II miss her pasta, she really was great at making a sauce and yes she did cook it all day. We were dying by dinner time. Setting the table, getting it all ready for her. yum.

                                      I've taught my kids the same technique, and the 5 yr old, don't ever try to tuck a napkin under his chin. Not to be judgmental but it kinda rocks my world to see adults cut up their spaghetti on their plate and then fork and knife it into their mouths.
                                      By the way, I agree gemelli and orechiette are my other favorites- ah yes they hold he sauce so well...

                                    2. re: todao

                                      I am a lover of angel hair, so there's really not much chance of a big mouthful and of course if you load your fork up...;)

                                  2. Cooking mostly for myself or one other person, I always break mine in half when adding to the water, for the same reasons you explained. I have the big pot my Mom used to cook a pound+ for the family when I was growing up, and I still use that for making stock/soups/stews, but the smaller pot heats up in half the time, doesn't weigh so much, wastes less water, takes less time to come back to the boil, and the pasta still tastes just as good. I was never a fan of twirling long pasta around a fork, though, so folks that like to do that might be disappointed.

                                    1. It's your house, and your dinner.

                                      Do what you like.

                                      1. Pasta-breaker here. Number 1: Mom broke hers before cooking (an early rebel). Number 2: Don't want to eat all my dinner in three huge, twirled bites.

                                        Sadly, one day last October, the Pasta Police did stop by and found me with two hands full of spaghetti halves. I won't go into details but I still walk with a painful limp. I'll still break the pasta (and the law) but I don't have kids who might have to pay next time. Just consider who might be hurt.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: DuchessNukem

                                          see..u didnt buy the pasta dinner from the local police benevolent society...
                                          if u do that...usually they leave u alone...

                                          its like if u have the little state police charity sticker on your window the state trooper wont give u a ticket right?

                                        2. I don't break my pasta, but here's a question for you: why not use other shapes of pasta that require smaller pots to cook? Penne, fusilli, shells are all great pastas and easy to cook in a smaller amount of water. However, when you put spaghetti in a smaller amount of water, it softens quickly and can easily be pushed into the pot.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: roxlet

                                            i do use all kinds of shapes and sizes...
                                            publix usually has barilla BOGO..
                                            so i have at least 5 or 6 shapes/sizes in the pantry
                                            and i use the "piccolini" ones for my daughter...

                                            1. re: roxlet

                                              I often go for penne or rotini for exactly that reason, but I've also been using a lot of angel hair lately, and I always break it. I use angel hair because it takes three minutes to cook, and I break it because my toddler ends up with less of it in her hair that way. Not exactly sophisticated culinary reasoning, I know . . .

                                              1. re: darklyglimmer

                                                ya gotta do what ya gotta do with chowpups....

                                            2. Can't remember which chain it was -- Ruby Tuesday's or TGI Fridays or one of the other fern bars -- had a Broken Noodle Pasta as a special for years (and it was actually pretty good).

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                "Broken Noodle Pasta" in that case a date night special (less to flop around staining clothing)

                                                1. re: hill food

                                                  ROFL!

                                              2. I don't do it, but there's no reason for you not to.

                                                However, if you'd rather not break your pasta, you can get a really light, really cheap 8 qt. "stockpot." I bought one years ago for $15 at some el-cheapo cooking store in a mall.

                                                1. The shapes, sizes and lengths of pasta all serve a purpose in the Italian cuisine. To break a long pasta you are altering the experience of eating it. Can you break it? Sure, you're the cook. Should you break it? No, if you respect the origin of the shape/length.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                                    What is the purpose of long pasta? Is it long because of special cooking or eating properties, or because it is convenient to make it that way? Spaghetti coming out of the extruder could be cut to any length, but I suspect some lengths are common because it is convenient to hang them over a rack (or broom handle) to dry.

                                                    I've seen some people wind their spaghetti on a fork, but have never gotten into that habit myself. What did Italians do with their long spaghetti before forks? (Though forks were adopted in Italy earlier than in France or England.)

                                                    Inventors have taken the spaghetti fork as step further
                                                    http://www.thegreenhead.com/2009/01/c...

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      "Spaghetti coming out of the extruder could be cut to any length, but I suspect some lengths are common because it is convenient to hang them over a rack (or broom handle) to dry."

                                                      I agree with this statement, but like I stated earlier, the mouth feel of a nicely rolled forkful of spaghetti is part of the experience. I'm not saying that one has to meticulously twirl the spaghetti around the fork using a spoon (which I have never done and don't endorse) but just simply picking up some strands and twirling them so that they make it to your mouth in a somewhat compact form is delightful.

                                                  2. See this: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/583856 to learn that you can cook pasta in smaller pots without boiling over. I use this no-boiling method for a pound of spaghetti in a 3-qt pot. It bends and sinks within a minute. I lift the lid to stir the strands once after 5 minutes but otherwise it's the same procedure.

                                                    Trader Joe's used to sell 2ft-long spaghetti. That was before I learned not to boil. Even with an 8qt pasta pot, a lot sticks out until it softens, but the strands finish evenly-cooked. It's great fun because one or two strands fill a fork. Feed it to an unsuspecting guest and watch his/her face as s/he twirls a pasta ball the size of a jumbo egg onto the fork!

                                                    1. Yes, you can break pasta.

                                                      Why you wouldn't is more of a cultural reason than a culinary reason.

                                                      1. Fideos is a delicious Spanish dish that uses broken spaghetti on purpose – it is like paella but with pasta. It is one of the dishes that won Ilan Hall top chef, I had a similar dish at Caca Mono in NYC where he worked and it was amazing. So I guess in some cases you do can break the pasta and not get busted by the pasta police.

                                                        http://www.bravotv.com/blogs/cookbook...

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: adido

                                                          Spanish Fideos (noodles) for making Fideua dishes (of which there are many) is produced and sold already in very short lengths .75" to 1". I think that recipes that call for breaking angel hair or cappellini, because the Spanish style fideos are hard to find outside of Spain or her old colonies.

                                                          1. re: chefj

                                                            Be careful when making that dish. The Fideua police are worse than the pasta ones! :)

                                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5157...

                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                              Thanks for the tip off, dirty screws.
                                                              Sounds like one of those dishes that is made differently all over the place and everyone thinks their way is the only way. I prefer the thin noodles to the hollow ones.

                                                              1. re: chefj

                                                                I just survived making a lunch time fideua using short Mexican fideos. An 8oz bag worked nicely in a 12" paella pan - even though I had to shift the pan around on top of a small butane burner.

                                                        2. I agree with the minority who say don't break. It changes the appearance and experience.

                                                          1. Have a look at what Raffetto's has to offer in NYC. They have the long bagged variety of pasta as well as those long types you can buy in bulk (stored in the glass cabinets). Love going there ... you leave the store with this package of pasta wrapped in white paper and people think you're a draftsman or artist or something. Meanwhile, I'm doing nothing more than carrying oversized concealed pasta. When I get home, somebody's got to break it (gasp), and it's a job usually delegated to ME.

                                                            Have a look --> http://newyorkdailyphoto.blogspot.com...

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Cheese Boy

                                                              Raffetto's was one of my favorite spots when I lived in the West Village. Now that I have a much larger kitchen than I did in the city -- and no Raffettos -- I make my own fresh pasta!

                                                            2. I break it in half. I live alone and love pasta but I'm not bringing out the 6 qt pasta cooker just for myself. Even when making pasta for my family I still break it in half. I don't like rolling long strands of pasta onto my fork. I prefer spaghetti over other shapes although I buy a lot of other shapes for certain sauces. I do what I want in my kitchen and you should too. As long as the pot is large enough for the pasta to keep a rolling boil, I'm happy.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: The Drama Queen

                                                                "I do what I want in my kitchen and you should too."

                                                                I wholeheartedly agree with you, but I want to say that "rolling long strands of pasta onto my fork" is exactly the reason NOT to break it. The mouth feel of a nicely rolled forkful of spaghetti that is unbroken is sublime. :)

                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                  If it's not your kitchen, not your dinner, and not your mouth....

                                                              2. I just cooked some last night with a curry butter miso sauce and you know what, for the first time I broke the pasta right down the middle so it will just go right in the pot and didn't just wait for the thing to soften then slide it in. When I ate it it was easier to eat, the sauce was more even, the flavor of course didn't change pasta whole strand or half, but the experience was different, for me, it was an eye opener, it was better!!!

                                                                1. I don't know where I picked the idea up (some cooking show or book), but I use my Large (14") straight sided saute pan to cook my spaghetti when doing enough for one or two people.
                                                                  No waiting, no pushing down, not a lot of time for the water to heat.

                                                                  1. Just by the fact that pasta comes in an array of shapes and sizes tells you that it can be made and enjoyed in all kinds of sizes and shapes. If you have broken it and enjoyed it then brake away without hesitation.

                                                                    1. IMHO, unless you are striving for a plate that looks like a restaurant serving, breaking pasta is just fine. Breaking long pasta in half keeps the long-look integrity of the pasta. And guess what, no one will really notice the difference because servings will look fuller and will be easier to twist on the fork.

                                                                      1. I think it is much easier to dip the long pasta onto the plate if it is not previously broken. Then pour on the sauce and cut it up to your heart's content with your knife and fork.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: condie

                                                                          Same results, no?

                                                                        2. Of course it is OK.

                                                                          But you will miss one of the great pleasures of Italian dining.I love the pleasure of twirling the long, perfectly cooked strands around my fork, poking a piece of homemade meatballs or sausage and some freshly made gravy. Hard to beat that with good friends and family.

                                                                          If you want to and it makes the eating more enjoyable, break it in half, cut it with a knife and fork (why use this pasta if you cut with a knife and fork baffles me), just enjoy.

                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                          1. re: nobadfoodplz

                                                                            Because that is, I think, a special talent. I could never get the hang of twirling it on my fork. :-)

                                                                            1. re: condie

                                                                              I agree that twirling long pasta is tricky. I always managed to get sauce on my clothing, and getting the right amount of pasta on the fork into the mouth without looking like a blowfish was not easy. Still, as in Italy, food is the language of love and must be enjoyed no matter what as long as it's delicious.

                                                                            2. re: nobadfoodplz

                                                                              Breaking in half in no way has to lead to then cutting it. Still "twirlable" just not as big a ball of pasta.

                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                Yes they are mutually exclusive. Twirling the shorter strands just feels different

                                                                              2. re: nobadfoodplz

                                                                                As a granddaughter of Neopolitan immigrant grandparents and the daughter of immigrant parents from Italy, I can assure you that breaking pasta was and still is perfectly acceptable. However, I would never trample on anyone's method of dining. So enjoy twirling your long pasta while I twirl my short pasta. The pleasure is all ours!

                                                                              3. There are two basic reasons not to break spaghetti. One is that the shorter pieces are more difficult to eat for people who habitually eat spaghetti (and linguine, etc.) in the accepted Italian manner, twirled around a fork. The second is that it is not necessary. You can use a much smaller pot. Just stir and push the spaghetti down. They will soften quickly in the boiling water and this will be easy. There is no need for a pot whose diameter exceeds the length of the pasta. But even if the diameter is small, do be sure it holds plenty of water.

                                                                                There are special circumstances under which even Italians would break pasta. There are a few recipes in which pasta is cooked like a risotto, and sometimes broken spaghetti is used as a soup pasta. But the default position in Italy is no breaking, and trust me, you don't need to to cook a small amount.

                                                                                1. Personally, I love to twirl my pasta and when cooking for myself and immediate family would never break it. When feeding my elderly parents, especially my dad who needs his food cut into manageable bites, I do break it, usually into quarters. It is simply a matter of practicality.

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: jlhinwa

                                                                                    Broken spaghetti is hard to eat. It would be a kindness to people with such problems to forgo the spaghetti altogether and use a short format, such as mezzemaniche, very easy to eat, or anything rigatoni-like. Also, small ravioli would be an easy way to deliver both pasta and some protein.

                                                                                    1. re: mbfant

                                                                                      Excellent point, and we often use different pasta shapes. I always have spaghetti noodles in the pantry so sometimes it is that or a trip to the store.

                                                                                  2. My Mother broke her pasta, I break my pasta and the pasta police haven't caught up with me yet!

                                                                                    1. I've been doing the Harold MeGee skillet method more and more lately (I still do the "big pot - no breaking" method when I'm cooking one or more pounds) but since I don't have as big a skillet as he does I break the pasta in half so it fits better.

                                                                                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keGCgW...

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                        Since the conversation has taken a bit of a turn (how long can you beat a dead horse?), I use a skillet to cook ravioli and other short pasta, especially if the quantity is small. I watched Giada DeLaurentiis cook (poach is a better description) ravioli and I tried it with great success. Before trying it, I always had trouble with several ravioli splitting when cooked in boiling water. By using Giada's method, I let the water boil gently and move the ravioli around carefully. Then I lift them out with a slotted spoon. I tried the same method with short pasta and the results were fine. Now, I rarely use deep pots with lots of boiling water. The simmering skillet is my choice.