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Stop Throwing out Your Pasta Water

Spaghetti alla Amatriciana with pancetta bacon, tomatoes and pecorino cheese
Spaghetti alla Amatriciana with pancetta bacon, tomatoes and pecorino cheese
Stop Throwing out Your Pasta Water
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Talk to the best cooks in Italy, and you might learn a simple secret to making great pasta: save the water the noodles are cooked in.

After pasta noodles have finished cooking, Italian cooks do not throw out all the water. They keep a small amount to use when making the sauce for the dish.

The leftover water contains starch from the pasta. This starch helps other ingredients stick to the noodles. It also helps to thicken the sauce. And because the water often has salt (and sometimes other seasonings), it adds flavor too.

Food expert Christopher Kimball recently wrote about the secret of making pasta for The Associated Press. He said he and his team at MilkStreet thought of this method while developing recipes for a one-pot pasta. With this one-pot recipe, you not only get a rich and thick sauce, you also have less cleanup.

The starch released by the pasta gives the sauce thickness. And the pasta takes in more of the sauce’s flavors.

Remember these terms: A “recipe” is the list of steps needed to make a dish. And “ingredients” are the individual food items in a recipe. This recipe uses only six main ingredients, plus spices and herbs. The recipe appears in MilkStreet’s book “COOKish.”

The main ingredients are: cherry tomatoes, onion, Italian dry salami, fontina cheese and, of course, pasta. Salami is a salty, dry meat. For people who do not eat meat, you could use mushrooms instead.

Kimball cuts the salami into small cubes. This lets them cook evenly in the pot. He also cuts the fontina cheese into small cubes, and adds them at the end. The cheese makes the dish rich. Any other cheese that melts easily can also be used.

The dish, Kimball says, is a tasty meal that takes less than 30 minutes to make. It uses just one pot. So, cleanup is also quick.

One-pot pasta with tomatoes, salami and fontina

From start to finish, this dish takes about 25 minutes to make. It serves four to six people.

Here are the ingredients:

(All measurements are approximate.)

12.5 grams (12 ml/1 tablespoon) extra-virgin olive oil

113 grams (4 ounces) salami cut into small cubes

1 liter (2 pints) cherry OR grape tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion, cut into small pieces

5 grams (6 ml/2 teaspoons) fennel seeds

Kosher salt and ground black pepper - to taste

454 grams (1 pound) of pasta

112 grams (4 ounces) fontina cheese, (or some other cheese that melts) cut into small cubes

In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the salami and cook until it turns brown. Add the tomatoes, onion, fennel seeds, and a small amount of black pepper. Cook until most of the tomatoes have opened. Add about a liter of water, salt, and bring to a boil. Stir in the uncooked pasta. Cover and cook, mixing around every few minutes. Make sure the water continues boiling.

When the pasta is still a bit firm, pour out the water and save a cupful.

Move the pot off the heated surface. Mix in the fontina cheese, then season with salt and pepper. Add some of the pasta water as needed to thicken the sauce. If you like, you can add freshly cut parsley or cilantro on top.

This is just one pasta recipe. But you can use the pasta water with just about any pasta dish and any sauce. So, remember: don’t throw out all the pasta water!

I’m Jill Robbins.

Christopher Kimball wrote this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

noodle – n. a thin often flat strip of fresh or dried dough (as of flour and egg) that is usually boiled

sauce – n. a usually thick liquid poured over or mixed with food

dish – n. food that is prepared in a particular way

starch – n. a substance that is found in certain foods (such as bread, rice, and potatoes)

flavor – n. the quality of something that you can taste

pot – n. a deep usually rounded container

creamy – adj. resembling cream (as in color, texture, or taste)

cube – n. a solid body having six equal square sides

Original Recipe

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces pepperoni OR sopressata, cut into ¼-inch cubes

2 pints cherry OR grape tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 pound gemelli pasta OR fusilli

4 ounces fontina cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes