11 February 2009

Don’t Pour Out That Starchy Water

I’ve come a long way from the college days of pouring a microwaved jar of Ragu or Prego sauce on top of over-cooked pasta from a box.  Now, I generally make fresh pasta (it doesn’t take much longer to make it from scratch than it takes for the big pot of water to come to a boil) and I’ve tweaked my red sauce to the point that I am pretty satisfied with it.  I use whole plum tomatoes from a can, which saves a lot of time compared to starting with tomatoes from the produce department - and besides, I find canned tomatoes to be way more consistent in flavor than store-bought tomatoes - but everything else in the sauce is wonderfully fresh: evoo, onions, mushrooms, basil, a splash of merlot.  Sometimes I’ll give it a little heat with some poblano peppers that I’ve prepared separately (blackened, peeled, seeded, soaked in evoo, and refrigerated).   Lately, I’ve been using shallots instead of onions, which I think makes a subtle improvement.


So, I was surprised to see that I am literally pouring an opportunity down the drain when I dispose of the starchy cooking water after pulling out my pasta.  In this video from Andrew Carmellini, he explains that adding a little bit of that starchy water will give the sauce an extra “shiny, yummy flavor.”  Furthermore, I noticed that he does not cook the herbs until the end.  I’ve been adding my basil shortly after adding the tomatoes, which gives the basil the maximum opportunity to diffuse its flavor to the sauce but admittedly wilts the herb beyond recognition.  Finally, he finishes with a little bit of butter (which would not have occurred to me!), evoo, and grated cheese.  All good things to try!


6 comments:

Kim said...

I haven't made fresh sauce since kids. As soon as I look up every other word, perhaps I'll consider it again. Would you do both with the basil? Some early on to get the most out of it and then some additional in the end for appearance and a different flavor aspect?

Stephen Bourque said...

Yes, Kim, I think that sounds like a good idea. That way you get the best of both worlds!

I'd like to try fresh oregano too, which my local store carries from time to time. I usually just use the dried stuff, which is okay, but is probably not quite as flavorful as fresh.

Martin Lindeskog said...

Great tip! I pour a little olive oil in the pasta water. Have you heard about the Carnival of the Recipes?

Stephen Bourque said...

I was not familiar with Carnival of the Recipes; it looks like a great thing to check out from time to time. Thanks, Martin!

Anonymous said...

i'm wondering if the remaining "starchy-water could be used in a soup or for a roast. it seems to me a lot of natural nutrition is going down the drain......
any thoughts ?

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous.

Since I wrote this post, I've learned a bit about nutrition, and I can say with confidence that there is utterly nothing nutritious in that starchy water! I found that the technique seems to give the red sauce a little bit of body, particularly if I reduce the sauce until it is thicker than I want it then add back in a bit of the water. But, as I said there is nothing nutritious in it; anything that is not water is grain-based carbohydrate that can't do anything good for your body.

The best thing to do with soups or roasts is to use a chicken or beef stock. It's pretty easy to do yourself--buy whole chickens instead of pieces, and instead of throwing out the bones when you tear them down, roast the bones then simmer them for hours with aromatics (celery, onions, carrots). (Try Googling "homemade stock recipe.")

I reduce my stock to three different levels, which I keep in the freezer--the stock itself, demi-glace, and glace de viande. When you pull your roast out of the oven, set it aside in a plate to rest. (You do let your steaks and roasts rest, right?) Deglaze the roasting pan with some stock and throw in a cube (about 2 inches on a side) of demi-glace and a cube (about 1 inch on a side) of glace de viande. Add a splash of brandy or cognac and reduce it until it thickens to the point that it will coat the back of a wooden spoon. It's absolutely heavenly! And it's all good stuff, too--mostly proteins and a little bit of animal fat. Any carbohydrates present come from the vegetables that went into the stock, not grains.