Cooking instructions typically recommend about 6 quarts of boiling water per pound of pasta; anything less than that and you run the risk of your pasta sticking together in a big clump. That was the accepted wisdom until Harold McGee wrote about his experiments with cooking pasta in smaller amounts of water. He found that a pound of pasta could be cooked in as little as 1.5 quarts of water, but the method was a little fussy, needing near-constant stirring to keep the noodles from sticking.
It was J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's write-up at Serious Eats that convinced me pasta cooks just as well in a small amount of simmering water, and has the added bonus of extra-starchy pasta water that is ideal for emulsifying pasta sauces. His method, which works for dry but not fresh pastas, only requires stirring during the first couple minutes of cooking, when the noodles initially release their starch. Because it's a lot faster to bring a smaller pot of water to a boil, and doesn't require as much heat to keep it at a simmer, this technique saves time and energy.
Curious? Skeptical? Take a look at the full post, which debunks some of the biggest myths about cooking pasta in a big pot of boiling water. Then try it for yourself!
→ Check it out: A New Way to Cook Pasta? at Serious Eats
Have you ever tried this method?
Related: Can I Reuse Pasta Water?
(Image: Emma Christensen)