Can You Reuse Pasta Water?

I don’t mean indefinitely, just a few times, to make an especially creamy caccio e pepe.

I read somewhere that this would “draw off too much starch” and I was baffled. How?

It would just create a very starchy water.

Has anyone tried this?

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It’s common in restaurants. They do it with pasta, some chefs claiming that reuse adds flavor to the pasta. Seafood restaurants boil and steam shellfish in the same water all day, topping up with fresh water when the level drops too far. By end of day, the shellfish pick up more flavor from cooking in what is, by then, broth.


I agree with Greygarious . . . no real problem at all.

The only time this can become an issue (for me) is when I’m cooking home-made fresh pasta, and then only because of all the flour that comes off the fresh pasta (the flour that the pasta nests were tossed with to keep them from sticking while they dry a little). That water can taste very starchy and un-cooked flour-y fairly quickly. But never had a problem with dried pasta - I wouldn’t imagine a problem with home cooking of store bought fresh pasta either since it doesn’t have the amount of flour on the surface as my home-made (though I don’t usually buy fresh commercially made fresh pasta so this is a guess from appearance only).

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+1 on this. And here’s another possibility that could maybe suit you. I use a different approach to get a creamy effect, which also relies on the starch in pasta cooking water.

I am talking dried pasta here, which I cook in a large stainless steel sauté pan (spaghetti, for example has room to lay flat). It’s an adaptation of the Harold McGee less-water, frying pan method:

My adaptations:

  • Cook no more than half a package of dried pasta with enough water to cover, but not boil over. I want to be able to reserve ample starchy cooking water to sauce the pasta.

  • Salt the water after it comes to a boil (can’t recall if the McGee method calls for this).

  • Just as the pasta is al dente, ladle out a cup of water into a heatproof measuring cup. You’ll use that water to sauce the pasta.

  • Drain pasta in a colander to remove excess water that remains.

  • Return frying pan to burner, which gives you the chance to sauté garlic, tomatoes and other elements of your condiment (sauce) that may be called for. If you have a premade sauce like a ragu, you can add it to the pan at this point to heat it because the pasta goes in next.

  • Place cooked pasta back in pan to combine with your chosen condiment and as much cooking water as you need to sauce the pasta. If you add too much water, remember the liquid cooks down fast. Be vigilant to make sure the pasta is neither too wet nor too dry for you.

  • Taking the pan off heat, you can add a little butter or olive oil as desired to finish your dish.

At first I used this low-water method for speed, but after a few tries I noticed that less liquid also led to a higher concentration of starch in the water. Great for creaminess.

You do have to stir the pasta to keep it from sticking, especially as the water starts to boil—not a deal-breaker for me. Also I don’t use this method for fresh pasta, which I find benefits from the traditional amount of water to prevent tearing and sticking.

After I practiced this a couple of times, this method ignited my imagination for concocting speedy pasta dishes with delicious results. The abundance of summer cherry tomatoes and corn did not stand a chance. :grinning:


There have been a few threads about caccio e pepe specifically (I think on HO, if not years ago on chow hound). But somewhere in all those threads - there was a tip from Cooks Illustrated (or one of the America’s test kitchen brands) about adding a little corn starch to the pasta water (after cooking I believe) to increase the start level and insure a creamy sauce.

I am pretty sure their assessment was that the cheeses we get here aren’t as young as what they have in Italy and that little extra aging makes the cheese melt differently and makes it challenging to replicate what you get in Italy. - If memory serves . . . but I’m getting older every day.

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Yes, totally this method! I can cook about 12 oz of dried spaghetti in my large SS saute pan. I use the CI trick of putting a measuring cup in the colander before I start the pasta so I don’t forget to save water.

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^ Nice tip. On a busy night, I have sometimes poured all the water down the drain. Oops.