Culinary Breakthroughs: Pasta Water
Yes, pasta water—that unappetizing gray soup I’ve been flushing down the drain all these years. Now I am convinced it’s a miracle ingredient. What happened?
When I read Heat (Bill Buford's memoir of learning to cook professionally at Mario Batali’s Babbo), I was intrigued by his description of the restaurant’s pasta water, which, after several hours turned into “a sauce thickener, binding the elements and, in effect, flavoring the pasta with the flavor of itself.” He thought it should be bottled and sold. The starchy water combines with the dish’s sauce and helps it cling to the pasta: “It was no longer linguine, exactly; it had changed color and texture and become something else... This, I thought, is the equivalent of bread soaked in gravy.”
Intriguing, yes, but I didn’t get it until last night when we made shrimp scampi from a recipe in Saveur (recipe). The last step has you adding some reserved pasta water and cooking until “sauce has thickened slightly, 1–2 minutes more.” I can’t say I noticed much thickening, but the linguine was evenly coated with a heavenly blend of butter, wine, seasonings, and shrimp juices, transforming the pasta and producing the same effect Buford described. I have always loved pasta, but now I am looking at it in a whole new way. Try the recipe yourself (it’s easy) and be swept away.