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Is it ok to boil pasta in pan with a pasta sauce?

Is there any reason to boil pasta separately (and then add the sauce)?

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weird. I never thought of this. I bet someone smarter than me will come along and tell you why this doesn't work. –  Michael Pryor Aug 4 '10 at 14:16
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Off topic, but I was bored once and boiled pasta with leftover cranberry juice .. the result was meh at best –  dassouki Aug 4 '10 at 14:21
    
Interesting question. I wonder if there might be a difference between fresh and dried pasta? –  Krister Olsson Sep 4 '10 at 1:34
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7 Answers

I just made some Iron Skillet Pasta. I've never cooked pasta right in the sauce before. Took longer but well worth it! :)

It tasted amazing!

Just took longer than a straight boil. Pasta absorbed flavor of sauce.

Keep an eye and don't be afraid to keep adding a little water to the sauce so things don't dry out before pasta is al dente.

That's the other thing, I nailed the al dente because the window was longer. I cooked it on a low boil.

Added parmesan towards the end for creaminess.

Sadness, it's all gone. Those that partook said it was 5 Star Pasta :)

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The reason why chefs boil to al dente is so it doesnt become overcooked when they add it to the sauce. The pasta is usually cooked for a few minutes in the sauce after its taken from the water. So if you are cooking it in the sauce already, ending the pastas cooking process when its at the al dente stage will mean its undercooked as a dish. –  Jay Apr 3 '13 at 6:14
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you sort of can do this. Lasagne is sort of done this way.

I assume that the reason why you don't see this advocated with other types of pasta is that your sauce would become very starchy, and often you want to get rid of this starch.

If you can think of a sauce in which a lot of starchyness is desirable, then as long as the sauce was quite thin to start with then you might be able to thicken it up as it cooks by cooking the pasta in the sauce.

But I think that the recipe would be very susceptible to going wrong as a small amount more water or a different brand of pasta and you might not get the sauce consistency you want, and then you'd have to take the pasta out to stop it overcooking whilst you adjusted the consistency of the sauce. And if there was not enough liquid to start with you might not cook the pasta enough before the sauce dried out or became too gloopy.

I imagine that you would get better results with fresh pasta than with dried too.

This blog post has some interesting investigations into cooking pasta and some of the pictures of the starchy water from pasta cooked in small amounts water show how much starch is coming off the pasta.

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Lasagne notably has egg as a constituent though. I would definitely not want to try with normal semolina pasta. –  Noldorin Aug 4 '10 at 14:28
    
@Noldorin, so you think it might be ok with fresh egg pasta? –  Sam Holder Aug 4 '10 at 14:35
    
Yeah, well I think it's less likely to ruin the egg pasta, though I still wouldn't recommend it. Egg pasta generally cooks a lot quicker, and wouldn't have the problem of starchiness. –  Noldorin Aug 4 '10 at 14:53
    
I'm not recommending this either. Just wanted to point out that it might be possible, and that there are many reasons why it will probably not work. I assume wisdom of the masses means that if it was a good idea we would be doing it, and as we are not, then it probably isn't a good idea. –  Sam Holder Aug 4 '10 at 15:02
    
Indeed, I'm with you there. –  Noldorin Aug 4 '10 at 15:10
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You can do this, anyway the effect is somewhat different from the traditional pasta way. I guess that the main problem is the excess of starch. You may think at this like the difference between boiling and stewing.

Anyway you can cook pasta as a risotto (a southern italy recipe; pasta patate e prosciutto): sautè diced ham and potatoes in a large pan, add penne and cook like a risotto with chicken stock. The result is a very energetic dish and the pasta flavour is really different from the normal boiled pasta.

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For ease of cooking I've made one-pot bolognese before using this as a method. Just throwing in pasta into the pot as the sauce reduces. Less cleaning up to do.

Personally, I don't like it as a method, before I prefer to reduce and simmer the sauce for a while, by which point most of the liquid has left the sauce. The pasta requires quite a lot, and so you have to pour in a lot more water. So, generally, this is for when I cook for the kids. They still love it.

So, yes, I just throw in the pasta, add some more water, top up and necessary, and it cooks. Takes a little longer than normal too.

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For the best of both methods, cook the pasta most of the way in water, then strain and dump into the sauce to let it finish the last few minutes of cooking.

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From what I've read, this is how most italian chefs do it. –  Ocaasi Aug 4 '10 at 19:21
    
Yeah, this sounds like the right approach. The Pasta should be even slightly hard when you put it into the sauce however. You definitely need to cook it in the water first though. –  Noldorin Oct 10 '10 at 16:26
    
Don't forget to salt the water too :) cooking.stackexchange.com/a/2579/18418 –  Travis J May 22 '13 at 23:25
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You can cook pasta by the absorption method, where you keep adding liquid in a covered pot until it is all absorbed. The liquid can be flavored, including wine for example. The texture is somewhat different, and the flavor absorbs very well. The pasta can also be toasted first. This is a traditional method for the Spanish dish known as fideos.

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Fideuá. Fideos are vermicelli in Spanish. spanishfood.about.com/od/maincourses/r/Fideua.htm –  BaffledCook Oct 10 '10 at 17:46
    
Fideos, for sure - in fact I have two recipes for them on my blog, but those are made with dried pasta, not fresh. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Oct 11 '10 at 15:42
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In short, no, if you want a good result, you have to use at least some water. The starch particles rinsed off by the water would end up in your sauce and you'd have a gloppy mess on your hands.

Check out this article by Harold McGee, where he investigates the assumption that you need to boil pasta in copious water to have it come out right.

To summarize, if you're going to use the low-water method (2 qts water), you need to start with cold water and you need to stir frequently.

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I don't matter adding some water. But eating the actual pasta water, will something detach from the pasta to the water? –  Tuomas Hietanen Aug 4 '10 at 15:16
    
@Tuomas, yes starch from the pasta will dissolve into the water. –  Sam Holder Aug 4 '10 at 15:47
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