These days, being frugal and reusing everything from plastic bottles to last night’s leftovers is not only recommended, but trendy, as “upcycling” and coming up with creative ways to transform waste into something usable is celebrated.
But there’s one aspect of cooking that’s so frequently overlooked when it comes to preserving and reusing ingredients: the water you used to cook your pasta!
While this cloudy, salty liquid might not seem worth preserving, it can actually be used in a whole range of other recipes, from tasty sauces to beautiful bread, and it’s even awesome for watering your household plants!
First things first, what actually is pasta water?
When you cook pasta noodles in water (regardless of the type of pasta you’re cooking), some of the starch used to create the noodles gets released into the liquid. This gives pasta water its trademark cloudiness.
If you’ve used salt – which is recommended, as this flavors the water and the pasta, and prevents the noodles from sticking together as they cook – then the pasta water will also be slightly salted, which makes it even tastier when used in future dishes.
Even the most amateur cooks will be familiar with this starchy, slightly salted liquid, seeing as pasta is so easy to cook! Even if you take cooking to the next level and make your own pasta (click here for our all-time favorite pasta maker), you’ll still end up with this tasty water at the end of the cooking process!
No matter how much we talk about pasta water being liquid gold, the dirty, murky water that sits in the pot (or goes straight down the drain) once you’ve served your pasta noodles certainly doesn’t look useful! So, why should you save pasta water?
The most obvious use for pasta water is to add it to the sauce you intend to serve with your freshly cooked pasta! It might sound weird, but a dash of this starchy and salty liquid is the secret behind restaurant-quality, smooth, and delicious pasta sauces.
In fact, some of the most classic and popular Italian pasta dishes, such as cacio e pepe and carbonara, actually depend on the binding power of the starch in pasta water to create the sauces we know and love.
Not only does the starch content of pasta water help bind other ingredients together in a pasta sauce, but it can also act as a thickening agent. This helps separate your amateur, average, clumsy pasta sauces from the silky-smooth delights you’ll find at top restaurants!
What’s more, the salt you used to flavor your pasta in the pot will also be infused into the water, lending some extra seasoning to your sauce. Who doesn’t get excited about richer and more complex taste sensations?
Besides being the perfect ingredient for recreating your favorite Italian restaurant-quality pasta sauces, there are a whole range of other uses for pasta water that make saving it more than worthwhile!
As we’ve mentioned, the starch and salt in pasta water acts as a seasoning, in addition to being an excellent binding and thickening agent. It’s also fantastic for making the best pesto you’ve ever tasted.
Legumes include various foods such as beans, peas, and linseed, all of which are excellent for the immune system and offer a range of other health benefits. You get the best results with legumes by soaking them before use, giving them a chance to soften and cook better. To take your legumes to the next level, use your leftover pasta water to soak them overnight. You’ll thank us!
Pasta water is a phenomenal ingredient in pizza dough or bread baking. All doughs require liquid with a pinch of salt, and pasta water ticks both these boxes, plus the starchy goodness will help your dough come together beautifully.
Save water and energy by using your leftover pasta water to steam veggies for a healthy and tasty meal. You could even add your veggie steamer above the boiling pasta to cook both at once: thrifty and eco-friendly!
Pasta water makes an excellent base for a hearty soup or broth. Use it to steam your veggies, then add that well-flavored pasta water to some stock, leave it to cook, and season to taste – a remarkable soup/broth base awaits!
Believe it or not, the starch in pasta water can also be used as a natural detergent! Clean even the most tarnished pots and pans effortlessly with warm pasta water.
It might sound like we’re losing it a bit here, but if your feet are sore or swollen after a long day, try warming some leftover pasta water and creating a DIY foot spa. The warmth of the water plus the variety of minerals absorbed by the liquid will instantly relax and leave you with soft, soothed feet in no time.
Recreate a spa-like deep conditioning hair experience in your own home, on the tightest of budgets, by massaging some leftover pasta water into your roots, leaving it for 10 minutes, then rinsing it out and following with your regular shampoo. Trust us on this one!
We were all instructed not to play with our food when we were little. But pasta water can be effortlessly transformed into homemade play dough that your kids will love!
Even if you don’t want to do anything creative with your pasta water, you can still use it to water your plants. The minerals absorbed by the water are great for growing greenery.
If you forgot that you were planning on saving your pasta water and threw it all down the drain, all is not lost!
Although it’s far better to use the water infused with starch and salt from your pasta, you can create a similar effect by microwaving a combination of water and smooth slurry to thicken the starch. Just remember to add salt too.
One of the best things about pasta water is that it’s effectively just water with a higher starch content, so it doesn’t really contain any perishable ingredients that could go bad, so it should keep for as long as tap water would. That said, it’s not advisable to keep pasta water in the refrigerator for more than 2-3 days, as it could encourage bacteria.
If you want to store your leftover pasta water for longer, pour the liquid into ice cube trays and freeze it. Frozen cubes of pasta water are particularly brilliant for throwing in soups, broths, or sauces instead of stock cubes.
Pasta water is such a wonderfully versatile ingredient that many of us are just throwing away! Hopefully, with these top tips, you’ll be able to get the most out of every pot of pasta and save a little water while you’re at it!
Learn how to make your own delicious pasta at home - this step-by-step guide will help you out:
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