I am simply shocked that I have discovered something completely new, totally unheard of, about the simple fact of boiling pasta. I have the requisite deep pasta pot that most avid cooks have. I fill it with gallons and gallons of water and wait for 25 minutes or so until it comes to the boil.
But Harold McGee has taught me a better way. If you haven’t heard of Harold McGee, you need to get to know this fellow. He is a culinary scientist who wrote On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. If you want to know anything – and I mean anything – about how food and cooking work, McGee has figured it out.
So I am listening to a food podcast in the car and there is Harold McGee asking the question: Do you really need gallons and gallons of water to cook pasta? Harold has conducted a number of experiments on how little water it takes to cook pasta and what temperature the water should be. Turns out pasta is a pretty forgiving ingredient.
So, I try the experiment for myself. I get a pan wide enough for 1/2 pound of spaghetti to fit in comfortably. I put in a liberal amount of water (but nothing compared to the gallons it takes conventionally) and add a healthy dose of salt. When the water gets hot, but not boiling, I add the pasta and stir every few minutes to make sure the strands are separate. And I am utterly surprised that within about ten minutes the pasta is cooked perfectly and the water has yet to boil. This is unheard of! This is going to change my life! Pasta in half the time and a much easier pot to clean. I am never going back.
So here’s a quick and utterly delicious recipe for you to experiment with this revolutionary technique. I found some beautiful sugar plum tomatoes at Trader Joe’s the other day. So I just made a simple sauce and topped it with crushed garlic croutons. Toasted bread crumbs used to be the poor man’s Parmesan cheese. They still work. Yum.
Pasta with cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one medium lemon
1 ½ cups sugar plum or cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup additional extra virgin olive oil
½ cup crushed garlic-flavored croutons
8 ounces thin spaghetti
Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add lemon juice and tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Saute tomatoes until their skins begin to split. Take off heat and add additional olive oil.
To prepare pasta, heat a large enough sauté pan to hold the spaghetti plus water to generously cover. Salt water liberally and heat over medium high heat. When water is hot, add pasta, stirring frequently to separate strands of spaghetti. Continue cooking until pasta is cooked to al dente. The water need not boil for the pasta to be cooked through.
Combine pasta with tomato mixture and sprinkle crushed croutons over the top.