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When cooking pasta, there are a couple of techniques that I like to follow--individually they yield great results, but when combined they interfere with one another to produce an inferior product.

  1. Salting the pasta water. I've learned this trick some time ago and it has been critical to producing the best-tasting pasta. I really want the pasta to be the point of the dish, with the sauce an accompaniment, and the getting salt in the water from the start is the way I get the best flavor in my pasta. In fact, I find that salting the water quite generously works very well as long as I am fulling draining the pasta after boiling.
  2. Adding starchy pasta water to my sauce. The starchy water really brings everything together. You could say it thickens it, but not like a roux, as some have speculated--rather, the starch emulsifies the fats into the sauce (consider if I have, say, tomato sauce, cheese, and olive oil) and it also adds a rich mouthfeel. I've really had great success adding some of the starchy pasta water to the sauce and don't want to give that up.

The problem is that when I've salted the pasta water, it means adding it to my sauce brings along all that salt--to the point where it can be unpalatable.

So to my question: Are these two techniques mutually exclusive? Or is there a way to get the salt into the pasta without getting it into the sauce?

To prime the pump, I've considered a couple of options:

  1. Brine the pasta prior to boiling
  2. Start the pasta in boiling salt-water, then move to fresh water (use the latter in the sauce)
  3. Start the pasta in fresh water, then move to salt water (use the former in the sauce)
  4. Boil a whole bunch of pasta (say, ditalini, for the large surface area) without salt for an extra-starchy water. Jar it, and use it in future sauces.
  5. Forget the starchy water, and just use, say, cornstarch.
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Since cooking the pasta in salted water is essential, and switching to fresh water or whatever is a PITA, I'd just use less water and thicken with something else. The standard ratio for salting pasta water is 1:10:100 - 1 litre of water for 10g salt and 100g pasta - perhaps you're over-salting the water? –  ElendilTheTall May 1 '12 at 8:23
    
Very well could be... I'm using 2-3 times that pasta, but probably 4-6 times that salt (it's right from the box into the water, so hard to tell). It never seems overly salty when omitting the water from the sauce, so I assumed the salinity was correct –  Ray May 1 '12 at 11:03
    
Wowza - that's a lot of salt. –  ElendilTheTall May 1 '12 at 11:56
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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Since cooking the pasta in salted water is essential, and switching to fresh water or whatever is a PITA, I'd just use less water and thicken with something else.

The standard ratio for salting pasta water is 1:10:100 - 1 litre of water for 10g salt and 100g pasta - perhaps you're over-salting the water?

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