34

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)?

  • 4
    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
  • 2
    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
  • 1
    That's the way many lasagna recipes do it, to keep the end product from being too mushy. I'd guess that the main drawback would be all the starch that would be released into the sauce. A lot of recipes have you add back some pasta water, to get that startch, but usually only a tiny, tiny fraction of the water that was used. If that supplies enough starch, I'd guess that all of it releasing into the sauce would not make for a good final product. – PoloHoleSet Sep 29 '16 at 15:59
  • I'd recommend simmering over boiling -- boiling most sauces results in it spattering all over the place. And it only works for sauces with water in them; it wouldn't work so well with pesto. – Joe Mar 3 '17 at 14:27

16 Answers 16

21

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.

  • 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
  • Italians and Italian chefs boil the pasta in the PROPER amount of salted water to the correct and proper AL-dente and then they combine it with the sauce. they are not cooking the pasta further in the sauce. – Alaska Man Mar 3 '17 at 1:56
15

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.

  • 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
  • 1
    @Tuomas, yes starch from the pasta will dissolve into the water. – Sam Holder Aug 4 '10 at 15:47
15

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.

6

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.

  • 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
3

I tried doing this because I have a very thin sauce and I thought this would thicken it up a bit. The end result wasn't good. The sauce had a starchy taste. I might try cooking the pasta half way then adding to the sauce, but really I should have just cooked the sauce longer to reduced it.

2

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.

2

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.

2

I think it can be done, but the flavour of the sauce seems to be less fresh and a bit 'blunt', which I guess must be either due to the starch from the pasta getting into the sauce, or the pasta itself losing the contrast of its own flavour and texture in the sauce. Personally, I don't really like it.

On a separate note, I've tried a similar thing with rice noodles (cooking them in the final broth) and can say hands down, that that is a BAD idea lol. The rice starch flavour seeped into the whole thing; it tasted so bad it was almost inedible. Rice noodles definitely need to be boiled separately in my experience.

1

I have cooked dried noodles in a very similar way with fresh tomatoes, by putting them in a pyrex pan, putting tomato slices, basil, olive oil, and spices on top, and baking it, covered in aluminum foil. Even with the foil holding in the moisture, it's helpful to pour boiling water into the pan occasionally while baking.

As long as the noodles are fully covered with sauce, it will work well. However, you will not have much control over how cooked the noodles end up. You will probably end up with some parts that are overcooked and some that are crunchy. It doesn't bother me.

1

There's "one pot pasta" (Youtube), where you cook the sauce together with the pasta.

So, yes, it's possible.

  • There's also 'skillet lasagna', where you make the sauce, toss in broken lasagna sheets, let cook, then add the cheese on top. – Joe Mar 3 '17 at 14:21
  • @Joe, I've seen a mac & cheese all tossed together. – BaffledCook Mar 3 '17 at 14:27
  • Without cooking the pasta first? Was it at least hydrated before going into the cheese sauce? (and I'm assuming this was a roux-based sauce, not block of velveta or jar of chez whiz). I would think this might be work, as you have to make sure you don't scorch the sauce at the bottom of the pan/pot. – Joe Mar 3 '17 at 14:30
  • @Joe Nothing. This is a bit of an infomercial (don't buy the product, it's not worth it). – BaffledCook Mar 3 '17 at 14:39
  • Ah ... a pan that claims nothing can stick to it ... so they have to make something that would come out ruined in most pans. Got it. – Joe Mar 3 '17 at 15:54
1

Yes you can! But soak the pasta in cold water first. The food lab explains the idea quite nicely - the point being that hydration (i.e. absorbing water) and the actual cooking are distinct processes that usually happen together, but need not do so. Hence, you can presoak the pasta and then add it to the sauce for boiling for a minute or so. I've tried that and it comes out well if the sauce is actually covering the pasta, i.e. not so much with a "dry" sauce like puttanesca.

0

i do this all the time! the trick is to reduce the sauce and when the sauce is ready add about 35 oz of boiling water/pack of pasta. i usually have a little boiling water on the side incase the sauce drinks it up too soon. stir frequently!

  • 2
    Welcome to Seasoned Advice! 35 oz sounds like a lot of water... it's over a quart Are you certain that's what you mean? Do you, perhaps mean 3-5 oz? Also, what is a "pack" of pasta? Depending on the brand, pasta commonly comes in 12 oz, 16 oz and 24 oz containers and I'm sure that some come in other sizes as well. – Catija Mar 2 '17 at 20:28
  • 35 oz is NOT enough water. 5 to 6 quarts for a pound of pasta. more better then not enough. – Alaska Man Mar 3 '17 at 2:12
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    @Alaskaman Peggy is saying that the water is added to the sauce when the pasta is cooked in the sauce. Additionally, 5-6 quarts of water is certainly not necessary. I regularly cook pasta in half that amount with no issues. – Catija Mar 3 '17 at 4:10
0

There are several disadvantages:

  1. Any fats from the sauce will coat the pasta and make it much harder to absorb water. Boiling time will be considerably longer, and especially in case of thicker noodles, pasta will be overboiled on the outside and still tough inside.

  2. Your pasta will release its starch and while not harmful, it makes the texture bad.

  3. Constant, persistent, thorough stirring required through the whole, lengthy boiling. In water, pasta floats, stirred automatically by boiling; only occasional stir is required to peel some random noodles from the bottom. In this sauce, you'd get raw pasta on top and thick layer of coal on the bottom unless you keep stirring all the time, scratching the bottom to remove any sauce and pasta that would burn.

  4. Very hard to retain the right thickness. You WILL need to add water as pasta absorbs a lot, and with the starch, and evaporation, would turn your sauce into solid. And if you add too much water, you'll have a soup instead of sauce, and you can't even reduce it because you'll overcook the pasta.

  5. Stupid proportions. You'll still end up with something more resembling a soup than a solid dish like typical pasta with sauce - you need considerably more liquid for boiling than the pasta being boiled, and so you'll end up with a lot of sauce and relatively little pasta.

  • Considering the big popularity of one-pot pasta meals, I think it's possible that some of your concerns are misplaced. Most of these are pretty successful at cooking pasta in the sauce directly, often a combination of stock and milk or cream. – Catija Mar 3 '17 at 19:29
  • @Catija: It's quite possible to cook in the same pot: make pasta al dente in water, drain it, then add the sauce ingredients and finish cooking the pasta with the sauce. But if you start by dumping dry pasta into raw sauce, you're unlikely to end up with something remotely good. – SF. Mar 4 '17 at 0:36
  • You should look at the one pot recipes... they don't use cooked pasta. I've made them several times and they are quite delicious. – Catija Mar 4 '17 at 0:59
0

As you may be aware the term "one-pot-pasta" differs exactly to your question - it is a method of cooking pasta where you firstly sautee your veg, make your sauce and then dump in your choice of pasta. All done in one pan, pot or whatever. No need to make a spot on assumption the first time of how much sauce you need to cook your pasta in - just add water if the sauce has thickened before the pasta is cooked completely. You will have to stir however - the sauce can stick (also I feel it slightly lengthens the cooking time). This method makes for a much taste-dense pasta as it is literally boiled in "flavoured" water (sauce). This is practically the only method I use these days - GO AHEAD! Hope this helps :)

-1

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 :)

  • 1
    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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    The reason chef's cook pasta al dente is so that i will be al dente when you eat it. It should not be cooked past the point of al dente. – Alaska Man Mar 3 '17 at 12:09
-2

In context to the OP's question: There is only one correct way to prepare pasta. You must have the proper amount of water and it must be salted. At least 6 quarts of water for a pound of pasta otherwise it gets gummy. Salt the water when it begins to boil, use enough salt for it to taste like the ocean. Stirring it is also critical, stir constantly for the first 1 to 2 minutes and at frequent intervals there after. Boil until just Al dente,(about 9 minutes) drain your pasta, always reserve some water for adjusting the sauce. do not rinse or add any oil or butter to your pasta. sauce and enjoy.

  • 2
    I'm really sorry but there's certainly more than one way to prepare pasta. How you prepare it depends on what it's being used for... for example, for a cold pasta salad, you need to rinse the pasta to stop the cooking and clear out the extra starch. Additionally, cook time depends on shape of pasta, what it's made out of, whether it's fresh or dried, and the brand, to some degree. Angel hair would be mush after 9 minutes. – Catija Mar 3 '17 at 4:09
  • @Catija I did not there was only one way, i said there is only one CORRECT way. We Americans are good a bastardizing foods from around the world and saying that we do it better. Rinsing your pasta to "clear out the extra starch" causes it to loose its ability to hold the sauce or what your adding to it. context of the OP's question was for sauce not salad. Yes the 9 minutes was general time for your average size dried pasta such as penne or rigatoni, i assumed that people were smart enough to understand that angel hair would cook quicker. My bad. – Alaska Man Mar 3 '17 at 11:48
  • @Alaskaman : 'do not rinse or add any oil or butter to your pasta'. What about Aglio Et Olio ? – Joe Mar 3 '17 at 14:25
  • @Joe obviously if oil IS your sauce then oil it. If you are saucing with tomato or cream sauce then you want your pasta to be able the old the sauce and oiling it will prevent this. – Alaska Man Mar 6 '17 at 2:59

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