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Pre-cooking Pasta

Q: I'm having a dinner party this weekend and would like to know if I can pre-cook the pasta, refrigerate it and then reheat it just before serving.

-- Michael M.

Restaurants do it all of the time.  Boil the pasta as usual, but under-cook it just a little.  Drain the pasta and then dump it into a bowl of ice-water to stop any further cooking.  Drain it well again and then toss it with a small amount of oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together.  Place in a sealable plastic bag or container and refrigerate.

Some cooks suggest reserving a small amount of the cooking water and pouring it over the pasta after it is tossed in the oil.  This may help to keep the pasta from drying out, but the extra water will likely be absorbed into the pasta, making it softer.

Just before serving time, plunge the pasta into a pot of boiling water just long enough to reheat.  Since it was slightly undercooked previously, test to make sure the pasta is properly done.  Drain and serve as desired.

Some cookbooks advise against tossing pasta with oil, since that will reduce the ability of the sauce to stick to the pasta.  While that may be good advice for pasta cooked immediately before use, if you don't toss pasta that is to be held with oil, what you will find when you go to reheat it will be a single clump rather than individual strands or pieces.  Most of the oil will be lifted off, however, when the pasta is reheated, so it won't be as bad as you might expect.

The alternative, of course, would be to buy fresh pasta which is available at most grocery and gourmet shops.  Because it cooks in only one or two minutes, it is not a lot more trouble than reheating pre-cooked pasta.

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