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The #1 Magic Trick For Perfect Pasta Sauces

The #1 Magic Trick For Perfect Pasta Sauces

Serve up the silkiest pasta of your dreams

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Ruby Goss

Ruby Goss

Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

Think of the best pasta dish you’ve ever had. Really picture it.

Did the sauce cling to each strand of spaghetti? Was it shiny like the glaze on a donut? I bet it was somehow creamy, not because of cream per se, but simply velvety and smooth…

In short, it wasn’t just pasta plus sauce, but one perfectly unified dish.

No, I’m not a mind reader, I just have the magic trick to restaurant-worthy pasta up my sleeve. It’s pasta water, the savior of any pasta sauce. To let it disappear down the drain is to lose it’s potential, so here’s a quick primer on making the most of it.

Why is using pasta water in pasta sauce such a revelation?

As it boils away, the salted water you cook your pasta in takes on the starch from the pasta. Starch is a natural thickener, found in ingredients like pasta, potatoes, and rice, for example. You might have added a glossy mix of starch dissolved in some water to give body to sauces and pie fillings, or perhaps you’ve observed starch naturally at work in a creamy potato soup that gets more velvety the more the potatoes break down.

When you add pasta water to your sauce, the same principles are at work: The starch thickens the consistency as it bubbles and heats and helps all the elements stay together, locking them into a unified (and absolutely not watery) sauce, whether it’s a chunky ragu, a silky carbonara, or your go-to pantry pasta. And the gloss I keep mentioning? It’s a natural perk.

To get into the habit of saving your pasta water, simply use a large mug to scoop some out before draining the pasta (what I tend to do) or ladle some into a heat-proof jug, then use it as needed to create the sauce of your dreams. Remember always to let the sauce and pasta water heat up, bubble, and reduce slightly, to allow the starch to work its magic.

It’s easier to learn theory in practice, so here are 2 *NEW* pasta-water-perfect recipes to try out this technique!

Pasta al limone is a speedy Italian classic that perks up basic pantry ingredients with refreshing lemon and a scattering of parsley. To counterbalance the acidity of the lemon, the key to this dish is achieving a creamy (but no cream!) sauce. Here it happens by starting off with a nice amount of olive oil and butter, deglazing the pan with the starchy pasta water, and letting it bubble up to a steady simmer. Next, you add the very al dente pasta and toss, toss, toss; the starch in the sauce cannot resist the starch on the surface of the pasta, and here, a true marriage of sauce and pasta takes place. It’s complete with a glossy, newly-wed glow, too.

Ruby makes Sicilian pantry pasta

Ruby makes Sicilian pantry pasta

This pasta dish relies on Sicilian pantry classics: tomato paste, pine nuts, raisins, anchovies, garlic, onion and is brought together in a flash by the one and only pasta water. Like in pasta al limone, pasta water is added to deglaze the pan after the sauteed ingredients. This is a great recipe to practice your pasta water preaching: To make it even easier, the very al dente pasta is transferred straight from the cooking pot using tongs, meaning some liquid travels over with it, and you have a whole pot on standby in case you need more to build the sauce to your desired consistency. You can watch the video here for the full walkthrough, and to see some ultra glossy pasta tossing in action.

More pasta dishes to practice with:

Cacio e pepe
Creamy 5-ingredient tomato and basil pasta
Pasta with Italian sausage, fennel and peas
Pasta all gricia
Kale pesto pasta
Swiss chard, Italian sausage, and white bean pasta

Or, find all our pasta recipes right here!

We hope you learned something new or felt seen among fellow pasta-water lovers! Let us know if you try out the technique and feel free to ask us any questions about improving your pasta cooking below!

Published on January 20, 2022

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