How do you cook spaghetti?

johnliu_gwFebruary 28, 2014

Ahem, well, I do know how to boil water and add pasta. I've known that since I was thirty!

What I am asking is, what do you like to put in the water? Or do you even use water?

I have been told to salt the water and/or to add olive oil. I recently read about putting garlic powder in the water. All in the name of adding flavor, I suppose.

Lately I have been trying banish water from my cooking. To never use water when I can use stock, milk, wine or something with flavor.

So when I made pasta tonight, I cooked the spaghetti in chicken stock. I'd like to tell you that it made the noodles great, but they were gluten free corn flour noodles, whose highest aspiration is to be barely edible.

That leads me to ask you. Do you cook your pasta in anything other than plain water? Salty water? Stock? Grape juice? Wine? Is there anything fun to do with this?

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I don't add anything. We try to limit our salt, so I don't add it, though it would make the water boil a little hotter and so speed up cooking. Adding oil coats the pasta so the sauce wouldn't stick as well.
Stock's not a bad idea.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 1:50AM
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If you add oil to the water, it just floats on top and does nothing to stop the pasta sticking. Gino D'Acampo (Italian chef on UK tv) gets apoplectic when people put oil in the water hahaha
I think the flavour should come from the sauce. I quite like the plain taste of the pasta in contrast to the sauce. Maybe I'm strange, though. I do salt the water.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 2:21AM
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I have been cooking spaghetti since I was a teenager. I never use any salt in the water. I never thought about something other than water, A very interesting questions you have posed. I do just like the package directions say. My family likes it just fine. Maybe I need to broaden their tastes.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:00AM
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Think geometry, and taste buds.

You taste flavor only when the taste buds making physical contact with flavors. All the flavors and salt, sugar, etc. which are not making contact with taste buds are all wasted.

When you soak or cook pasta in nice stock or sauce, a lot of the flavor gets deep inside the pasta and will not make contact with your taste buds, and therefor wasted. You will be eating a lot more salt for nothing.

I only use water to cook pasta first.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:18AM
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I'm not convinced I notice the difference between salted and unsalted water, but that's because I tend to overload mine with sauce. But I've also seen judges on Chopped make a big deal over someone not salting the pasta water. There's one quick weeknight meal I make where I cook rotini in just enough stock to absorb, and this definitely adds flavor to the pasta.

It'd be interesting to try. Maybe add a couple bottles of clam juice when making a seafood dish? Or some lobster or shrimp shells? (Using a pasta insert of course!)

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:20AM
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I add salt, though I've never added this much.

This was on Zite yesterday. Pasta's golden rule

"10-100-1000," ......... That's the ratio of salt to pasta to water. So 10 grams of salt is the right amount to cook 100 grams of pasta in 1000 milliliters of water (1000 ml = 1 liter)

That comes out to 50 grams of salt for 500 grams of pasta (which is slightly over a pound), to 5 liters of water (slightly more than 5 quarts).

Here is a link that might be useful: Link

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:09AM
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Salted water. No oil, no other flavorings in the water. Use the pasta water to rinse the pasta or do not rinse at all.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:34AM
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I quit adding oil a long time ago when I learned it makes no difference. I do add oil after I've drained the water. I do add salt, but if it doesn't really make a difference, either, I'll stop doing that. I wonder if the added salt to the water makes a difference when people use a bit of the pasta water to the sauce? Well, silly me, of course it does.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:37AM
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I cook mine in boiling water, usually not salted, and never with oil. IMO, all the oil does is make the sauce slide off the pasta.

I don't remember who it was but on one Iron Chef show, someone cooked bucatini pasta in red wine. It was an off-putting purple shade and not very well-received.

On the other hand, I do like to cook some grains like rice or barley in broth if I'm mixing in vegetables without any sauce.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:45AM
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I'm on a low sodium diet,
So no salt in the water here.
Occasionally I had a bit of olive water to the water,
I kind of like the way it keeps sauce and strands separate.
Somehow, the idea of cooking the spaghetti in broth, etc,
kind of puts me off.
I really LIKE the flavor of the plain pasta,
It compliments the the sauce, IMO.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 10:15AM
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Momj - That's a 1% concentration, and does sound a bit high. I follow the famous salted water recipe on Epicurious, which is one Tbsp per gallon of water. I just did the math and that's about a .22% concentration if using kosher salt (which I do) or .47% with table salt.

Just checked some pasta boxes: DeCecco calls for a pinch of salt; Barilla to taste, Ronzoni 1 Tbsp for 5 quarts of water.

I'm thinking salting might be more important if you don't drown your pasta in sauce like I tend to.

I just did a little experiment, cooked pasta is about 60% water. IF my math is right, assuming equal absorption of salt water solution, a quarter pound of dry pasta absorbs 1702 mg in a 1% solution, down to 374 mg in "my" .22% solution. Does seem like a waster of DV sodium if you don't truly taste the difference.

This post was edited by foodonastump on Sat, Mar 1, 14 at 10:55

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 10:49AM
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Absolutely, salt in the water. I don't measure it. That's all usually, although I admit I do use a tiny bit of oil when I'm cooking capellini, because the tiny strands tend to stick together.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 11:04AM
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The only time I've cooked pasta in anything but water is when making turkey and noodles - I cook the noodles in the home-made broth made from leftover roast turkey, then add the leftover turkey and some cream after it's done just long enough to heat through.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 12:04PM
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Water, some salt, drain & rinse. No oil. I also break the spaghetti in half, and slurp to eat. No twirling.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 12:14PM
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The chefs on tv use copious amounts of salt in the pasta water. "It should taste like the sea" they say.

I don't like the taste of pasta in salted water......too salty, I taste the salt foremost.

Plain water, no oil, no rinsing, use pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce a bit, and no breaking of the noodles.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 12:19PM
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There are pastas made with stuff added, that results in colored pasta - red, green, black, etc. Which made me think that maybe the "stuff" could be added when the pasta is cooked, just as well as when the pasta is produced.

We do this with other grains. For risotto, rice is cooked in stock and wine. Paella is rice cooked in stock. My lazy man version of sushi rice, I add sugar, vinegar and salt to the water. Some rice and noodle soups involve cooking the dry grain in the soup base. Some doughs are made with oil in addition to water. Rice seems better at absorbing flavors than dried pasta. I speculate that fresh pasta might act more like rice.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 3:09PM
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I'm one of the no salt added people. Even though there is no salt in the pasta water, I usually reserve about a cup for adding to the sauce if needed. It may not be salted, but it has some of the residual starch.

I normally don't cook pasta in anything but water. The exception is orzo/manestra. It's very common for Greeks to cook dry orzo in the tomato sauce surrounding lamb shanks or braised or roasted lamb. My favorite childhood meal was chicken & manestra -- chicken in a tomato sauce seasoned with cinnamon and then orzo was cooked in the sauce.

If I'm not cooking a traditional tomato-orzo dish, then I cook the orzo in chicken broth, similar to risotto.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 5:17PM
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I am also a "no salt" person when it comes to the water. I do not like the taste of extra salt, and I find that a lot of people add way too much salt to their recipes - especially East Coast celebrity chefs on the Food Network. If you are used to a low-salt diet, you will find salt offensive, but if you are addicted to salt, you may want it in everything. I do not use salt when making cookies, cakes, or candy, and yes it does taste different, but that's the way I like it, as I find salt to be offensive in sweets. People who are addicted to salt say that salt enhances flavors, but for me it masks them. Salt does not need to be in everything, but I have known people who put salt on fruit (I've seen this in Mexico), which I think is the worst offense. My mother ate lemons with salt. If you try a salt-free diet, you might discover a lot of flavors that you have actually missed rather than enhanced, but then maybe you will not like those flavors. You can always add salt, but never remove it. If pasta needs more salt, add it to the sauce. Salt does not need to be in every component of a dish, even though I have heard that claim made.

I am not a huge fan of spaghetti - I usually make fettuccine or some other type of pasta. When I make fresh pasta, I do add a bit of salt to the pasta dough instead of to the cooking water. I also frequently cook orzo - sometimes with rice - and I cook it in broth or in soup. I have also used orzo in stuffed cabbage.

My friends in Tucson that I visited last year cooked spaghetti in an incredibly small amount of water, and I learned that it actually made no difference. In a hot climate, you will not want to boil huge quantities of water! Also, they are in a desert, but did manage to have a small patch of lawn beside their pool.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 5:47PM
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I am also of the "no salt added" camp of pasta cooking. Yeah, I know, they tell me on TV that I must add copious amounts of salt. I ignore them all and do as I wish, sort of like in all other aspects of my life, LOL.

I do cook rice and barley in stock, and I've cooked quinoa in apple juice, but the pasta just gets water.

How much water? Enough that it will fit in my big pan without boiling over. Maybe 3 quarts of water for a pound of pasta?


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 7:07PM
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I have here a simmering pot of refrigerator velcro pasta sauce to experiment with.

(sweat onions and garlic, brown italian sausage, find cans that say tomato something, slice in a can of black olives, simmer for a couple hours, melt in the rinds of various soft cheeses, add some $3 red wine, simmer some more - hey, it is a cold rainy day outside)

I think I will cook the pasta in the rest of the red wine plus some chicken stock. With salt!

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 7:38PM
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It's a rainy day here too, but not quite cold, as it has not gotten below 60 yet, and that is the cutoff point for me. My digital laser thermometer registers 62.5 degrees outside, but it is warmer in the garage. The rain knocked down one limb of my cherry tomato plant (which I cut off and put into water), knocked several ripe tomatoes (which I saved) off of other tomato plants, knocked down all the cilantro (which I should have cut down anyway), and flooded both fountains, which we had emptied for cleaning.

So I am also cooking with chicken stock - I added a chicken breast from the freezer that I defrosted, and I think I will add the asparagus from the fridge. I will probably also add pasta, but I haven't decided which one. I might use orzo.

Your dish sounds good with the sausage, tomato, olive, cheese rinds, and red wine - a bit like putanesca, if you add chili flakes. I hope you will save the chicken stock after you have cooked the pasta, as it will make a great sauce for something else. It might get thickened a bit by the pasta.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:35PM
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I am wondering what I will do next with the stock, which will be mixed 50/50 with red wine. I think there is a soup there waiting to be improvised. Worst case I'll re-use it to slow cook some beef, or something.

It is about 35F and raining lightly. I have to fly to Boston for four days tomorrow, back for Fri/Sat then on the road again the following week,

Too much traveling lately. The week before last, a two day trip to New York turned into a five day stay when a storm shut down air travel on the East Coast. I was scrambling for a flight home, got booked and canceled four times, kept asking the hotel not to throw me out, finally the airline got me to Seattle and left me to find my own flight to Portland. The good thing was that I got to visit a friend in Greenwich Village. We walked through the snow to a market, got food, went back to his place and I made dinner for him and his daughter and her friend. Mushroom risotto and chicken thighs braised in stock and beer. Simple and impromptu but it was a lot of fun. We saw an exhibit of Greg LeMond's bikes and jerseys from his three Tour de France victories and one of his two World Championships . I missed meeting the man himself by one day.

That's why there hasn't been any contribution by me to WFD. It's been quasi subsistence cooking around here.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:03PM
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OKay - cooking fusili in 50/50 red wine and chicken stock makes the pasta a sort of reddish-brown color, which is interesting. It flavors the pasta just a little, not really enough to matter. I wonder why dry pasta is so poor at absorbing flavors? If I cooked rice in this, it would taste like wine and chicken.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 11:51PM
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I ended up cooking orecchiette in my soup, but I soaked it in hot broth before adding it to the soup. It did absorb the flavor of the broth, but as I suspected, a lot of the little "ears" stuck together. Kevin said these reminded him of dumplings and he liked them better than the single ones. I stirred them enough while soaking them so that never more than two stuck together, but this was still not what I was planning.

I think that if you had chosen a smaller pasta than fusilli, you might have gotten a better absorption of flavor, but perhaps you had unrealistic expectations. I have not noticed an appreciable different between orzo and rice in absorbing flavors, but they are very similar in size. In the end, you are not eating pasta by itself, and will get additional flavor from your sauce.

Personally, I refuse to go to NY in the winter and have never been during that season. I lived in San Francisco for 12 years, ten of which I spent my winters in Mexico, and 8 of which I spent Augusts in Vancouver, to avoid the cold, fog, and damp. After changing planes a few times in L.A. between Mexico City and SF, I figured out that there was essentially no difference between L.A. and Mexico City in the winter and decided that if I lived in L.A., it would be easier for me not to have to travel because of intolerable weather and still be in the U.S.
I moved to SF from Texas to escape the heat, not knowing how cold it was going to be in SF. I can handle heat if I have to, but I have never adapted to cold, especially the cold in San Francisco.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 2:19AM
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"OKay - cooking fusili in 50/50 red wine and chicken stock makes the pasta a sort of reddish-brown color, which is interesting. It flavors the pasta just a little, not really enough to matter. I wonder why dry pasta is so poor at absorbing flavors? If I cooked rice in this, it would taste like wine and chicken."

Pasta absorbs flavor very well. Too well as a matter of fact. It absorb and keeps and never lets go of the flavor. Pasta is more solid than rice. If you read my post above, what your taste buds is not in direct contact will not be flavor experienced and therefore wasted. An important consideration for the salt intolerant to keep in mind to reduce intake.

Rice is different, it is more starchy, and the flavored starch coats your taste buds very well and you can taste the flavors much better.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 8:10AM
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When we had pasta dishes at my Italian in-laws' I always found myself very thirsty afterwards. So I don't salt the water and I also choose canned tomatoes, if I'm using them, that don't have added salt. For me the flavor is just right using only whatever natural salts are in the tomatoes, plus garlic, oregano, basil and a bay leaf. I do add a bit of sugar to my sauces, though.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 8:18AM
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