Sweating it Out
Questionable Habits

Elemental Tricks

One of my favorite writers is Harold McGee, the author of the endlessly fascinating tome "On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen." He has the ability to take the most basic elements of cooking and throw new light on them. He contributes to the food section of the New York Times, and he has a piece in today's paper about cooking pasta. He wants to see how little water he can get away with using, and he calls on some great experts to test his theories: Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazan. I have to say, though, that I found the piece lacking. A year or so ago he wrote an article for the Times about how we use, and waste, heat in the kitchen. In that piece he revealed an intriguing detail:

    In fact it’s easy to save loads of time and energy and potential discomfort with grains, dry beans and lentils, and even pasta. But it requires a little thinking ahead. It turns out that the most time-consuming part of the process is not the movement of boiling heat to the center of each small bean or noodle, which takes only a few minutes, but the movement of moisture, which can take hours. Grains and dry legumes therefore cook much faster if they have been soaked. However heretical it may sound to soak dried pasta, doing so can cut its cooking time by two-thirds — and eliminates the problem of dry noodles getting stuck to each other as they slide into the pot.

I would like to hear Bastianich's and Hazan's opinions about soaking pasta before cooking it, as well as McGee's method for doing so. Anything that speeds the process in the kitchen interests me.

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