Italians are notoriously, and understandably, protective of their cuisine, as witnessed by regular discussions about the right ingredients for pizza or the right pasta to use with a ragù Bolognese.
So it was no surprise that, when a Nobel Prize-winning Italian physicist chimed in with advice on how to cook pasta to perfection, which seemed to turn everything the country’s cooks had been doing in the kitchen for years on its head. centuries, sparked a great discussion.
Professor Giorgio Parisi, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2021 for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales,” suggested turning off the heat halfway through cooking the pasta, then covering with a lid and waiting for the residual heat in the water to finish the job, can help reduce the cost of cooking the pasta.
In response, Michelin-starred chef Antonello Colonna claimed that this method makes the pasta rubbery and could never be served in a high-end restaurant like his. The controversy quickly spilled over into the media, with various heavyweights in food and science contributing.
But for those of us at home trying to save our pennies while cooking pasta, is Parisi’s method really profitable? And does he really taste that bad? Inspired by the idea of saving some money, Nottingham Trent University students Mia and Ross went into the kitchen to cook pasta in different ways, helping to unravel the tangled threads of this question.
What happens when you cook pasta?
The first thing to ask yourself is what actually happens when we cook pasta. In the case of dry pasta, there are actually two processes that usually take place in parallel. First, the water penetrates the pasta, rehydrating it and softening it in ten minutes in boiling water. Second, the paste is heated, which causes the proteins to expand and become edible.
The standard cooking method submerges 100g of pasta in 1 liter of boiling water for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on its thickness. The breakdown of energy use is shown in the graph below, which can be converted to a total cost using information on the price of energy and the efficiency of the stove.
At today’s prices, the cost of cooking dry pasta on a ceramic hob is 12.7p a serving, an induction hob 10.6p and a gas hob 7p. So given the UK’s love of pasta, with consumption averaging one serving per week, we’re spending £4,690,000 a week cooking pasta.
It is clear from the graph that about 60% of the energy is used to keep the water boiling. So anything that can be done to reduce cooking time would have a significant impact on the overall cost. Parisi’s method of turning the hob off halfway and letting the pasta cook on the residual heat will halve the cost of cooking, a saving of around 3p. This method will be even more effective on ceramic hobs since, unlike gas and induction hobs, they take time to cool down.
However, by separating the rehydration and heating processes, it is possible to further reduce the cost. Dried pasta can be fully rehydrated by pre-soaking it in cold water for two hours. This is a process that requires no power at all and saves an additional 3p.
Then the pasta needs to be placed in boiling water for heating, and more can be saved here too. Chefs, bloggers and scientists report that the quality of cooked pasta is not affected by significantly reducing the amount of water. We found that halving the water resulted in a perfect pasta, but halving it by a third was not satisfying. Starch is released during cooking, and if there isn’t enough water, the concentration builds up, leaving lumps of unevenly cooked pasta, though regular stirring of the pot can improve things.
The graph shows that the second largest energy requirement comes from boiling water. Once again, there is another saving to be made here.
It turns out that the protein granules in the pasta dissolve above 80ºC, so there is no need to bring the pan to “continuous boiling” at 100ºC, as is often recommended. Gentle simmering is enough to fully cook the pasta, providing an additional saving of around 0.5p.
We also investigated the use of a microwave to heat presoaked pasta. Microwaves are very efficient at heating water, but in our experiments they produced the worst paste of all. Definitely not one to try at home.
How to do it and save money
The prize for the most efficient method of cooking dried pasta is pre-soaking it in cold water before adding it to a saucepan of boiling water or sauce for a minute or two. Keeping a lid on the pan is another simple thing you can do. Adding salt, while making a minimal difference to the boiling point, does improve the flavor significantly.
We’re not all Michelin-starred chefs or Nobel Prize-winning physicists, but we can all make a difference in the way we cook to lower energy bills while producing great-tasting food. Now it’s up to you to experiment with these methods until you find a combination that makes cooking more economical while saving your energy. pennies.
The author would like to thank his students Mia London and Ross Broadhurst for their help in compiling this research.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
David Fairhurst does not work for, consult with, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic position.