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Cooking Tips

Want to Cook Pasta Faster? Don't Wait for the Water to Boil

Starting in cold water—and using less of it—reduces the total cook time by as much as 45 percent.  
By Published Apr. 28, 2023

It’s a long-established truism that to cook dried noodles properly, you must add them to a pot full of boiling water. 

But poking holes in conventional techniques is part of what we do in the test kitchen, and oftentimes it leads to a smarter, more efficient approach that completely upends our assumptions. Maximizing fond development by adding water to the pot and steaming eggs rather than boiling them are perfect examples.

Most recently, we tried cold-start pasta.

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Can You Start Pasta In Cold Water?

The idea, which has also been tested by other culinary experts including Harold McGee, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and Alton Brown, is this: Rather than waiting for a big pot of water to boil and then adding the pasta, cut time, water, and energy by adding pasta to a lower volume of unheated water and then bringing the water and pasta to a boil together. 

We tried this method with various types of pasta—strands and short shapes, Teflon- and bronze–extruded—and smaller amounts of water and found that you can save significant time and water by ignoring conventional wisdom.

Cold-Start Pasta Is Faster and Uses Less Water

In our tests, 1 pound of dried pasta started in 1 quart of cold water cooked up just as nicely al dente as the same type of pasta started in 4 quarts of boiling water (our conventional method). Only the most sensitive palates could discern any difference between the samples. (Note: We did not test this method with fresh or filled pastas.)

Here’s how the savings added up:

Time

  • Conventional Method Total Cook Time: 23.5 to 29 minutes, depending on the pasta shape (penne: 29 minutes; linguine: 26.5 minutes; elbows: 23.5 minutes)
  • Cold-Start Total Cook Time: 16 to 17.75 minutes, depending on the pasta shape (penne: 16 minutes; linguine: 16.5 minutes; elbows: 17.75 minutes)
  • Total Time Savings: As much as 45 percent

Water

  • Conventional Method Water Volume: 4 quarts
  • Cold-Start Water Volume: 1 quart
  • Total Water Savings: 75 percent
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Cold-Start, Minimal Water Method for Cooking Pasta

Method

  1. Combine 8 to 16 ounces of pasta and 1½ teaspoons table salt with 1 quart cold water.
  2. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring occasionally once water starts to steam.
  3. Reduce heat to maintain simmer (stirring is no longer necessary; agitation of water will keep pasta from sticking).
  4. Cook to desired doneness, adjusting burner if water starts to boil over.


Tips 

  • If cooking strands, use a 12-inch skillet; otherwise, use a large saucepan.
  • Be aware that pasta may take a few minutes longer to reach al dente.
  • The cooking water will be extra starchy, so if you’re adding it to a sauce to adjust the consistency, you’ll probably need less of it than usual.
  • To make it easier to reserve cooking liquid, drain the pasta over a large bowl.

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