Who would have thought that that murky looking water had more it than just a cordial friendship with the kitchen drainage? 🤷♀️
Growing up watching my mom prepare pasta and tossing away the starchy pasta water every single time, I came to think that getting rid of the starch was a criterion in preparing flawless pasta dishes of any kind.
Some even believe that the starchy water contains all sorts of harmful food preservatives and whatnot, so by “parboiling” it, you would be removing a significant amount of the bads’, leaving only a glorious pasta dish behind!
But indeed, Italian grandmothers know best — they’ve been saving pasta water since spaghetti was a thing. That salty, murky water adds three things to pasta dishes: flavor, body, and cling. Let me explain how.
While your pasta boils in salted water it releases some starch (that explains the cloudiness), turning plain water into an unknown (until now) essential ingredient that acts as a unifier between pasta and its sauce.
Simple Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper pasta) would be lost without pasta water, which provides the body for the sauce and helps it cling to the pasta. The same is true for Aglio e olio, another humble pasta dish made with garlic and olive oil — it would be overly slick and oily without the addition of starchy pasta water to coax the oil into an emulsified sauce. Pesto and penne are united in a delicious friendship thanks to the binding powers of pasta water.
Sometimes sauces like meat-packed Bolognese need a little thinning out after simmering for hours, and pasta water helps loosen and flavor it without sacrificing body. Creamy carbonara sauce cools quickly; the addition of pasta water will rescue it from clumping.
And pasta water can support your culinary creativity: remember it when you need to bring leftovers or random ingredients together into a harmonious pasta meal!
- pasta water acts as a unifier between the pasta and its sauce.
- It acts as a binding agent (aka emulsifier) between added oils and pasta sauce.
- It helps loosen and flavor thinning out Bolognese after simmering for hours.
- It prevents dishes like creamy carbonara sauce from clumping after it cools.
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