We've always been told that pasta had to be cooked in a big pot with lots of water, and we never really questioned it. Until now.
I have seen mentions of this alternative method of cooking pasta here and there, and figured I had better give it a try.
The basic idea is that instead of using a bunch of extra water in a huge pot, you cook your pasta in a smaller pan with just enough water to get it cooked through - no excess. The starchiness in the water is not a problem, because that extra starch is part of what contributes to an extra creamy sauce that will really stick to your noodles. Restaurant chefs have known about that trick for a long time - they always add a ladle of pasta water to their sauce.
Basic cooked pasta:
- 1 package (usually about a pound) of pasta
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 4-6 cups cold water (see notes below)
The butter might not be necessary in a non-stick pan, but I am using a cast iron pan so I always like to have a little oil in there.
The quantity of water will vary depending on your type of pasta and your desired end result. Here is used a very thin angel hair pasta and I just was serving it buttered, so I used only 4 cups. But for thicker pasta like penne you will need more water - so go up to 5 cups. If you are making a sauce then you will want to have a little water left in your pan after the pasta is fully cooked, to help blend in the sauce, so go up to 6 cups.
So - 4 cups for thin pasta, no sauce. 6 cups for thick pasta with sauce. Or adjust in between to suit your needs. As with everything, I think it's a bit of trial and error. If your water is all absorbed but your pasta is not yet fully cooked, then add a bit more hot water.
Place everything in a pan just big enough to contain it all and wide enough that the pasta can be fully submerged in the water.
Turn on the heat and bring up to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally to ensure the pasta doesn't stick together, until the pasta is cooked to your liking.
It will take about 10- 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pasta.
And that's it! Perfectly cooked pasta in less time than it would take to even get a pot of water boiling.
Once it's done you can serve as is, or add your sauce. My kids are picky about sauce, some like it and some don't, so I tend to serve the sauce on the side. But you could just add a little cream and some herbs and parmesan cheese to this for a super quick and simple weeknight pasta dish, or toss in a jar of your favorite tomato sauce.