April 1, 2009

how to cook pasta without boiling water

There's no way this should work.

I was reading a terrific article in Vancouver Magazine a few days back, talking about the best pasta in Vancouver. One section of the article talked about chef Pino Posteraro's technique for making dried pasta:
One local foodie who has spent years in Italy told me some of the best pasta he’s ever eaten was at Cioppino’s. “It was the most extraordinary thing. Pino cooked the pasta in the sauce he served it in. No boiling water, no colander—nothing. I’d never seen anything like it.”
What, no boiling water???? How many times have I read about the importance of bringing an ample quantity of water to a rolling boil before adding the dried pasta to ensure even cooking, no sticking, and a uniformly al dente texture? I kept reading:
Chef leads me to his pasta station, his mise en place meticulously organized—every container labelled and dated with a short strip of masking tape. He grabs a large saucepan, cranks up the heat, and begins. He starts with two types of garlic (purée and confit), a little chili pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. “You must cook the garlic properly, otherwise it gives you indigestion.” He adds white wine, chicken stock, prawn jus, salt, and a splash more olive oil. (The servers have abandoned their polishing and are crowded around to watch. Even the cooks, traditionally jaded and unflappable, take notice.) The sauce splashes and bubbles as it comes to temperature. He grabs a fistful of dry, uncooked spaghetti, tosses it in, and covers it, savouring my confused look. “Bello, you don’t need to boil the pasta first,” he tells me. “Just wait”. . .

After a few minutes, he removes the lid to reveal a delectable symbiosis. The pasta is cooked perfectly al dente, and has adopted a slightly pinkish hue from the sauce it has absorbed. The starches from the pasta saturate the sauce, making it richer, more textured. The heady aroma of wine and garlic perfumes the air. He fills three pasta bowls—one for me, one for him, one for the lurking servers (who fall on it like a pack of jackals). He chastises a waiter for using a spoon to twirl his pasta. “It’s served in a bowl for a reason,” he shouts. “Use the edge of the bowl to gather the noodles around your fork!” The sauce clings to the noodles; the crabmeat is firm and sweet; all the ingredients sing out in unison. “You see, bello? Pasta this good, I would even eat for dessert.”
After years of working with dried pasta, this just didn't seem like this should work. But hey, Pino's restaurant, Cioppino's (in Yaletown), has been named the Best Formal Italian restaurant at the Vancouver magazine restaurant awards for six years in a row. And the general premise of integrating the starch from the pasta directly into the sauce to thicken it seemed sound... the sauce would be naturally thickened and enriched as it cooked, eliminating the need to add back any cooking water.

But would the pasta cook evenly? Wouldn't it clump together?

Not at all! The technique absolutely works. It's simple, eliminates the separate step of boiling the pasta, and resulted in a spaghetti e vongole that took 12 minutes to make, start to finish. The pasta had a uniquely toothsome texture while being coated with an unctuous, richly textured sauce full of robust flavor.

All this from a recipe that needs no precise measurements and can learned by watching this simple video. Check it out and try it yourself. You'll be amazed.


  1. Lately this method seems to be picking up traction. Food scientist Harold McGee wrote about it in the NY Times back in February (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/dining/25curi.html?pagewanted=all). Alain Ducasse has been doing it for some time and even went so far as to design a special pot + spoon for Alessi (http://www.alessi.com/en/3/2021/pots-and-pans/pasta-pot-pasta-cooking-unit). Ducasse discovered the technique used by Italian (Ligurian) olive pickers. I'll bet the more common technique of boiling pasta in a separate pot was employed by the Romans and being the dominant Italian population, it became the de facto method. In an alternate universe, we might all be cooking pasta in one pot.

  2. That is too freaking cool! Logan has done parcooked pasta that you finish cooking in red wine, but this seems even simpler.

  3. That's real creativity and innovation, I must say. I think I'll try to shoot it, but I don't think it will be as pretty as your picture!

  4. Anonymous11:39 AM

    i've been cooking pasta this way for 20 years...nothing revolutionary. just pure laziness.

  5. After years of working with dried pasta, this just didn't seem like this should work.

  6. Anonymous7:51 PM

    I have been cooking pasta like this for years.
    It works every time, even with store bought pasta.

  7. Here in Italy we say "mantecata"

  8. Anonymous6:41 PM

    I don't know about the method, sounds like it would be sticky. I'm Italian, I can assure you that no self respecting Italian or person of Italian descent would use the word "noodles" for pasta, nor use the side of the bowl to twirl pasta.... that's what spoons are for!

    "Noodles..." PThoo!

  9. Anonymous7:24 PM

    Does it work with dried pasta that is meant to take around 20 mins to cook?

    Thank you :)

  10. Anonymous7:51 PM

    I cook my mac and cheese like this! makes it super creamy and the pasta absorbs the cheese sauce instead of just being coated in it. Delish!

  11. Anonymous3:23 PM

    works with lasagna too of course