I am not proud to admit this, but as a kid, my idea of gourmet pasta was penne, most likely overcooked and topped with whatever jarred sauce my mom picked up on sale that week. Let’s just say that I didn’t grow up with a Nonna who taught me the art of pasta making.
Luckily, I’ve overcome my Prego-sponsored youth and over the years, I’ve turned into a bit of a pasta snob. I’ve learned (and still have the culinary school loans to prove it) that pasta has to be bronze cut and slow-dried, the sauce needs to be homemade, and the pasta needs to be finished in the sauce with a splash of the cooking water. Pasta cooking water may seem like something to toss down the drain, but I think it is the most important ingredient I’ve used on my journey to pasta perfection.
Pasta contains a lot of starch. While it cooks, much of that starch saturates the cooking water, leaving you with a substance that is starchy. When you add it to a pasta sauce along with al dente noodles, magic happens: The starch in the water helps the sauce bind to each strand of pasta. Plus, if there is a fatty element to your sauce (think: oil, bacon fat, butter, cream), the starch helps emulsify it, so you don’t wind up with a greasy plate of pasta.
How To Freeze Pasta Water
There is truly nothing more devastating than accidentally dumping your liquid gold (aka pasta water) in the rush of getting dinner on the table. Making this tragic mistake one too many times inspired me to freeze leftover pasta cooking water in ice cube trays so I always have some on hand.
All I do is let the water cool slightly, then ladle it into a standard ice cube tray and freeze until solid. Once frozen, I transfer them to a quart container or zip-top bag that’s clearly labeled to avoid any ice cube mix-ups. While pasta water can do a lot of things, it’s not great in a cup of iced coffee, a mistake I learned the hard way.
My Favorite Ways to Use Frozen Pasta Water
I use these little cubes of starchy goodness in so many ways, but here are just a few of my very favorites:
To Cool Down Boxed Mac and Cheese
I may be a pasta snob now, but I’m still a mom. My kids have boxed mac and cheese more times per week than I’d like to admit and it’s always hot as lava. Adding a few cubes of frozen pasta water cools it quickly without watering it down. The end result is super creamy, without any of those not-so-tasty powdered cheese clumps.
To Reheat Leftover Pasta
Have you ever added a beautiful leftover plate of pasta to the microwave only to be left with a crunchy, dry inedible mess? Place leftover cold pasta in a small skillet with one or two pasta water cubes. The steam will help warm the pasta through evenly and the starch from the pasta water will bring the sauce back to life.
When Making Pesto
Making pesto is one of my favorite methods for using up herbs and produce past their prime, and I like to have it in the fridge for salads, sandwiches, eggs, and more throughout the week. Adding a cube or two of this defrosted water makes the pesto silky smooth every time without diluting the flavor.
For Tricky Sauces
Sometimes pasta is tricky, like when attempting an emulsified sauce such as carbonara. I like having pasta water on hand for such sauces since time is of the essence. That way my sauce is ready to go as soon as the pasta is al dente.
For Thinning Out Gravy
Is there anything more stressful than making gravy? It can go from too thin to too thick in the blink of an eye. Pasta water cubes help you get the perfect consistency while seasoning the gravy at the same time. Same goes for any pan sauce. Add a few cubes to the fond in a roasting pan to ensure you get every last bit of flavor.
To Reheat Risotto
There is nothing quite like a plate of freshly made risotto. It’s truly a labor of love, and the proper consistency is meant to flow like lava. If you are anything like me, you add enough mascarpone to turn any leftovers into a brick in the fridge. Reheating risotto gently on the stove top with a few cubes of starchy goodness will bring back the beautiful texture you worked so hard to create.
Once you try this freezer hack, let us know how you are using your frozen pasta water cubes!