The secret to making perfect pasta in 11 easy steps

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman claims to have discovered the secret to perfect pasta: water.

In the New York Times Magazine last week, Bittman wrote about this discovery during a recent trip to Rome while hanging out with a chef named Flavio de Maio:

…the secret, as it turns out, is to stir the mostly cooked pasta quite vigorously so that its starch emulsifies with the seasonings and added water.

After reading this, I wondered if it really could be so simple. Over the weekend, I gave it a try with Bittman’s recipe for cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta). Three ingredients: pasta, cheese, and pepper. Plus the starchy pasta water of course.

It turns out that to make an amazing dish — a simple but hearty upgrade from mac and cheese — it takes about 20 minutes all in. I eat gluten free (I know), so I made this recipe twice, with regular pasta and gluten free pasta, to see if they both came out creamy.

As expected, the pasta with gluten came out smoother and creamier, but for quinoa pasta, the gluten free stuff was pretty good. The leftovers were also softer than the usual basically-raw-again crunchy stuff that you usually get when you try to eat gluten free pasta after its been in the fridge.

(Big thanks to my wonderful co-chef, Steve Rousseau)

This is what you'll need. A box of pasta, some olive oil, water, salt, pepper, and two kinds of cheese (a cup and a half of Parmesan and a cup of Romano, grated). The recipe serves two, more or less.

Start making the pasta. Add salt to water in a pot, then bring it to a boil, then add the pasta. Some people will tell you that adding salt makes the water boil faster. This is incorrect. Adding salt makes the pasta more delicious. Cook the pasta for the number of minutes directed on the box, minus one.

While your pasta is cooking, make the cheese paste. Combine the grated cheese, salt, and pepper with 'just enough cold water to make a thick paste.' Mash it together and spread it around the bowl.

When the pasta is done, either use tongs to pull it out of the water and put it into the cheese sauce, or drain it. Either way, make sure to save at least a cup of the pasta water.

Transfer the pasta to the bowl full of cheese. Add a bit of olive oil and some of the pasta water.

Stir vigorously. The hot pasta and water should start to melt the cheese into a creamy sauce.

Stir more.

Keep stirring. Add more pasta water as you go until the cheese is completely melted.

When you're done, the pasta should be coated in a thick, creamy sauce. If there are still chunks of cheese in it, that means you probably didn't stir fast enough. But this is ok because chunks of cheese are delicious.

Then you eat it! It should be so good that you want to taste it standing up in your kitchen.

If healthy eating is your thing, add a salad. You might have some grated cheese left over to add to it.

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