I have mentioned this procedure once before, but I realized last night that Harold McGee’s new method of cooking pasta has changed my life. So I wanted to devote an entire blog post to it.
Old way: Get out the big pot, fill it with 4-6 quarts of water, add a liberal amount of salt to the water, bring it to a rolling boil (which can take ages), and cook the pasta. Drain and, unless you’re using some of the pasta water as part of a sauce, throw the whole 4-6 gallons of water away.
Harold McGee’s way: Fill up a shallow pan with water. The pan should be big enough so the pasta can lie flat.
And the water should cover the pasta. Again, add salt so the water tastes of the ocean, but you don’t have to add nearly as much as you would in a deep pot. Put the pan on the stove and turn on the heat. Add the pasta. It doesn’t matter if the water is room temperature, warm or hot. I know, you are beginning to be amazed. With a pair of tongs move the pasta to and fro so that it doesn’t stick together. Once the pasta softens, you will only have to do this occasionally. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente, which happens at least as fast as it does using the old method.
This is revolutionary, folks. Why didn’t anyone think of this before? At the end of the day, I believe the pasta is texturally better, you have very starchy pasta water to enhance your sauce, and you throw away a fraction of the water you would have from a pasta pot. And clean-up is a snap.
Since I’ve discovered this technique, I have not pulled out the pasta pot once. For half a pound of pasta, I use a
regular skillet. For a pound, I have a slightly larger pan. You want enough room for the pasta to swim around a bit.
So now you’re thinking, “This sounds too weird. I’m afraid to try it.” Man or woman up. If you get a couple boxes of spaghetti at the Publix during the “buy one, get one free” promotions, this will cost you NOTHING.
Since I’ve been consuming cabbage casserole, sausage flatbread and mini-quiches for the last few days, I decided to keep it simple with the pasta. I sauteed 8 ounces of mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter with some salt and pepper. Added the juice of half a lemon, another couple tablespoons of butter, and the 8 ounces
of perfectly cooked pasta. Finished with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
As my daddy would say, “Man, oh man.” He always said that when he particularly enjoyed a meal. What the hell does it mean? I don’t know.
I want you – I implore you – to try this. And if you want to hear the great man himself talk about this, listen to this episode of The Splendid Table (scroll down to find the link). Even Lynne Rossetto Kasper is taken aback. Heretic. Pirate. Revolutionary. Harold McGee is my new favorite boyfriend.