I looked up some recipes for pasta al'arrabiata, and one part I find a bit confusing is that most of them finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. So you cook the pasta separately until it's almost done, and then mix it with the sauce and finish cooking. I'm used to simply cooking the pasta and the sauce each for themselves, and only then mix them.

I'm an inexperienced cook, and this part adds some complications where I'm wondering if they're worth it or if I should simply cook the pasta and the sauce separately as usual. I'm comfortable with cooking the pasta alone to something resembling al dente, but mixing them both just before they're finished and then cooking both together makes this more difficult. I also usually use a rather small pot for the sauce, so I'd have to adapt that as well.

So, I'm wondering what the purpose of this step is, and whether I should just cook sauce and pasta entirely separately.

  • 1
    I don't know much about the dish, but sauce generally has more flavor than salted water, so it will flavor the pasta more heavily. – Nick T Dec 17 '18 at 23:37
  • 3
    The condiment is not a substitute for properly salting pasta cooking water. You need both. – moscafj Dec 17 '18 at 23:40
  • 3
    This is a great question. It does not pertain to just arrabiata. This is a common technique worth discussing here – Summer Dec 17 '18 at 23:41
  • 1
    I just comment because I do not find any goods on doing it so can't answer. The point of adjusting the thickness mentioned in the good A below is true but personally I do that by drying the pasta less or more depending on the sauce. What I want to point out that it shouldn't be done with a lot of sauces (sugo di carne sugo di funghi ecc) while it is required for specific ones (cacio e pepe, e.g.). – Alchimista Dec 18 '18 at 14:55

While Italian cuisine is defined regionally, the majority of Italian pasta dishes have one cook the pasta until almost done, then finish in the condiment. While there are exceptions that include thick, long cooked sauces like Bolognese or sugos, finishing in the condiment serves several purposes: (a) the pasta and the condiment can be combined, (b) the pasta finishes cooking, (c) it absorbs the flavor of the condiment, and (d) the condiment (sauce) thickens and emulsifies from the addition of the starchy pasta cooking water (this can be controlled by adding cooking water and/or allowing it to cook off). Yes, it is more difficult than cooking separately, and it can be a little nuanced, but it is not very technical. With a bit of practice, I think you will find this step worth it.

  • This way of cooking is relatively new in the houses of Italians. Can't say is innovative but it got widespread by the huge amount of TV programmes and channels dedicated to cooking. – Alchimista Dec 18 '18 at 14:50
  • Let me point out in passing that you don't need to think of putting the pasta in the sauce's pan. Instead you'd drain out the pasta, put it back in its own pan and add the sauce to it. – user57361 Dec 19 '18 at 0:13
  • @GeorgeM of course that is possible, however, removing the pasta to the condiment/sauce pan allows you to reserve and use the cooking water as you finish the dish. – moscafj Dec 19 '18 at 1:50
  • 1
    Yes moscafj, but if you're going to drain the pasta you're going to have to save that cooking water in another container anyway – user57361 Dec 19 '18 at 18:30
  • 1
    @GeorgeM hate to split hairs, but for most people "drain the pasta" means that the cooking water literally goes down the drain. – moscafj Dec 19 '18 at 20:02

I'm going to extend moscafj's excellent answer by being more specific to the case of pasta arrabbiata. Consult the Serious Eats recipe, which covers most of what I'm explaining.

Unlike a slow-cooked tomato sauce, arrabbiata is a quick-cooked, making the tomatoes bright, fruity, and acidic. Unfortunately, that means that the tomatoes are watery and chunky as well, which means that they adhere poorly to the pasta. Finishing the pasta in the saucepan with some of the pasta water fixes this, making the sauce thicker and stickier, and helping it distribute evenly.

So you can make the sauce and pasta separately, and just toss them in a bowl, but the result will likely be a lot of the sauce running off the pasta and staying in the bottom of that bowl.

Just make the sauce in a large, deep pan and it should be no problem doing this. You're not even washing more pans, just one bigger one.

  • 1
    Indeed this is the answer. In my comments I didn't convey the message. " Saltare la pasta" literally jumping the pasta ( perhaps sauting is the term) is indicated with these kind of quickly done sauces and condiments, which themselves are not very adherent. It can also give a crispy note to the finished pasta, in other cases. – Alchimista Dec 20 '18 at 14:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.