What is pasta water
This might be a no-brainer, but pasta water is the starchy liquid left behind after you drain your pasta. If you’re draining it through a colander, that liquid will go right down the drain, but if you’re smart, you’ll reserve it for later.
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Why you should save it
As pasta cooks, the starches from the pasta slowly leach into the water creating a cloudy starch water that is basically liquid gold.
Those starches are do two things. They enhance texture and alter thickness.
They are the key to a silky smooth pasta sauce. They can make a simple cacio e pepe creamy and decadent and they can help a pesto sauce cling to your rigatoni.
They can also help loosen an overly thick sauce, too. We like to add a little bit of pasta water if our meat sauce is too thick.
How much salt should you add?
To make 1 pound of pasta, bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil. Then, when you add your pasta, throw in about 1 tablespoons of salt.
While we don’t normally measure the salt we put in our pasta water, we generally end up using about 1 tablespoon of salt for a pound of pasta.
Even though this is a good general amount, you should always take into account the amount of water you are using in your pot to determine how much salt to add to pasta water.
If we are making 2 pounds, we usually use about 6 quarts of water, so we use about 1.5 tablespoons of water. This is because our pot is 8 quarts and just can’t hold that much water without boiling over.
How to use pasta water
Reserve it. After cooking your pasta in salted water, you will want to reserve some water before draining. You can do this a few ways:
- Use a ladle or glass measuring cup to scoop out some water.
- Pour some water from the pot directly into a glass measuring cup or mug. Then, drain the pasta with a colander as usual.
- Remove the pasta from the water and transfer it to a serving bowl or separate pot with sauce, leaving the pasta pot full of water.
Use it. When you’re ready to use your pasta water, simply pour it slowly into your sauce. We usually like to do this while tossing the pasta with the sauce, but if you know your sauce needs thinning, go ahead and do that right away.
Only use a little bit at a time. Generally, we recommend 1/4 cup of pasta water to start. Allow it mesh with your sauce, then use your best judgment to determine if you need to add more.
Should you use pasta water for plants?
The starches in pasta water can be helpful to fertilize plants, but you should not use pasta water for plants if there is salt in it. Since we always salt our pasta water, we steer clear of this.
Recipes that use pasta water
We use pasta water in almost all of our recipes, but here are a few that pasta water really makes or breaks the recipe.