Pasta water, amazing stuff. Used correctly it can boost the flavour and texture of your dish and improve the marriage of pasta and sauce. By now most people know that pasta water is a good thing, but I still wonder how many use it unless a recipe specifically tells them to. (For those unacquainted, pasta water is the water left in the pot after pasta is cooked, that is usually poured down the drain)
Getting the most out of pasta water:
- Salt your water well when it comes to the boil. It's a myth that salt stops pasta sticking and its effect on boiling point is negligible; rather the salt is, as always, for flavour. Some say "as salty as the sea", others have specific ratios. For me one medium-sized handful is enough — the water won't be unbearably salty to taste but you can tell it's salted. Remember this when you're making the sauce — your dish will get a boost of seasoning at the end from the evaporated pasta water.
- Catch excess water rather than reserving it. It's a hassle and more washing up to reserve a cup of pasta water. The easiest thing to do is to tip your pasta into a colander and immediately place the colander back on top of the pot. This method should catch enough water as the pasta drips.
- Finish the pasta in the sauce. I cook my pasta until almost al dente, then dump it with some pasta water into the sauté pan with the sauce (or a new pan with a portion of sauce if you cooked a lot of sauce). Cooking this over heat until the water has nearly all evaporated will finish the pasta and help bring pasta and sauce together. The italian word for this is pastasaucefinishtogethero.
- Shake your pan to emulsify the last bit of pasta water with the oil of the sauce. This will ensure that your pasta is neither too oily or watery.
- Don't obsess over amounts; if it tastes good do it. This isn't baking, taste as you cook and add as much as you think you need. Pasta water does have salt so err on the side of adding too little at first. You can always add more later.
In this dish an emulsion of pasta water, olive oil, and lemon juice coats the pasta and makes the recipe a great one to practice with (it also tastes really good).
Gnocchi with tuna & lemon
Ingredients (makes 1 main course serving):
- 90 g of gnocchi1
- 2 tbsp of olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 clove of garlic
- 60 g of can of good quality tuna (about 1/3 a 185 g can)
- 1/4 cup of loosely-packed flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tbsp of lemon zest
- 2 tsp of lemon juice
- Cracked black pepper
- Parmesan cheese
1. Cook the pasta until almost al dente in well-salted water.
2. Meanwhile, slowly sauté the garlic for 5 minutes until it softens. Turn up the heat, add the tuna and parsley and cook for 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and turn off the heat.
3. Once the pasta is ready, drain it reserving 1/2 a cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan with 1/4 cup of the saved water and a generous helping of pepper. Toss over high heat until the pasta water has almost evaporated, tasting for seasoning.
4. If the pasta is tasting too acidic, drizzle some more olive oil and toss to emulsify the oil. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.
(1) This isn't gnocchi as in potato dumplings, it's a type of dried wheat pasta. It's a larger version of the more common gnocchetti. Use whatever shape you have on hand.