Cooking dry pasta is one of the easiest, most self-explanatory techniques of any cuisine. Even the most novice home cook can handle it. (Especially when it’s a step in one of our easiest pasta recipes!) However, this notoriously easy task has more tricks than you thought—and saving the pasta water is one of them. Though it’s often one of the most forgotten steps.
Pasta water is the leftover liquid after the pasta has been cooked, and it’s filled with starchy, salty goodness. Although it may look murky and dirty, this stuff is the key to a successful sauce, and to a beautiful pasta dish.
What to Do with Pasta Water
After your pasta is done cooking, remove it from the pot using tongs or a pasta fork so your water is left in the bottom of the pan. That way you can save as much or as little of the water as you want. I like to reserve about a cup of water per pot of pasta.
Next, add the sauce to the pot of water and stir, then add the pasta. The starch content adds a silky richness to your sauce and the salt content lends extra flavor.
The starch also acts as a thickening agent. This trick is what separates average pasta dishes from the delightful, complex dishes at your favorite Italian restaurant. It’s perfect for simple sauces like cacio e pepe, and is even better in slow-simmered meaty ragu.