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I often make up a box of pasta (dried) with some sauce that I make from leftover ingredients for work the next day. The sauce is always either tomato or cream cheese based.

By lunch the next day, the pasta has soaked up a good amount of the excess sauce that was previously filling the base of the box. Aside from storing the pasta and sauce in two separate boxes, is there anything I can do when cooking to avoid this happening? It does not appear to be a problem in supermarket ready meals.

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Do you add oil to the water the pasta boils in? – mfg May 10 '11 at 12:34
mfg, the only effect that oil has when boiling pasta is to in a very very very small way help the water not boil over. It has no other use. – daniel May 10 '11 at 18:19
I don't add oil, as experience and advice from others tells me it does nothing :) – James C May 11 '11 at 11:06
up vote 5 down vote accepted

If I plan on storing my pasta in the fridge with the sauce, I take the pasta out of the boiling water and immediately rinse it in cold water. I rinse until the pasta has cooled completely. Make sure to drain it well. Afterwards, I either mix a little sauce in the pasta to help keep it from sticking or just put the sauce on top. Basically I'm trying to stop the pasta from continuing to "Cook" in the sauce.

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Obvious really, I'm always sticking hot pasta into a box then putting the lid on so it's no wonder it continues cooking in this way. I will do this from now on. – James C May 11 '11 at 11:04
Never ever rinse pasta! Cardinal sin! – user37489 Aug 11 '15 at 18:28
That may be, but it still works fixes the problem. :) – Macromika Sep 16 '15 at 20:50

Adding a little milk (to the creamy pasta) or water before reheating cooked, wet pasta is a good idea because pasta will continue to absorb the moisture in the sauce and 'cook', leaving it dry and overcooked.

You can compensate for this in large quantities (like supermarket meals) by slightly under cooking the pasta and relying on this process of moisture absorption and reheating to finish the cooking process.

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I agree with Christopher -- the only way to achieve "prepared meal" type dishes is to undercook the pasta so it finishes in the sauce. Of course, if you could easily estimate how much you wanted to save, you could pull that amount before you finished cooking the amount for your current meal, or pull it all, and finish cooking tonight's meal in the sauce, then box up the remainder of the sauce (possibly thinned slightly) and the extra pasta. You might need to toss a little bit of sauce in with the pasta while it's still warm just to avoid it sticking to itself as it cools. – Joe May 10 '11 at 14:47
I have tried thinning the sauce and it solved the problem of the sauce disappearing, but of course it continued to cook as you said. I'll try the combination of ideas next time. – James C May 11 '11 at 11:03

The problem might also be caused by the fact that cooked pasta releases gluten, which thickens your sauce. "Washing" your pasta before putting the sauce in it, as suggested, is a good method, but probably the most simple thing to do in general is to keep your sauce a bit more liquid, and mixing your pasta with a bit of olive oil just before you add your sauce. This way your pasta is somehow "coated" with oil which could prevent a bit the soaking of your sauce.

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I have tried using oil before but didn't like the flavour it added to the dish. Perhaps it wasn't right for the sauce I had at the time. – James C May 11 '11 at 11:05

I've started pulling out the leftovers before finishing cooking a pot of pasta, so that the leftover portion is only partially cooked, rinsing them and letting them cool before adding any sauce. This works best if you know the portions that work for your family/guests, but is especially handy when trying to enforce measured portion sizes.

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