One day, a particularly stern culinary school instructor asked my dear friend Holly if she knew how to boil water. My forty-something mama-to-three pal simply rolled her eyes and proceeded to lug her six-quart pot to the stove. I, by contrast, spiraled into panic. I can easily tick off the smoking points of fat (safflower oil is 510 degrees, who knew?) and the definitions of deglaze and dredge, but did I know how to boil water for pasta?
Once I came down from my fleeting penne attack, I realized that I did, in fact, know how to boil water for pasta. I did not yet, however, know the joy of reserving the leftover pasta water — known in cheffy circles as "liquid gold" — and man, had I been missing out.
Cloudy, stach-filled liquid, how I love thee. So why exactly should you save the stuff? Liquid gold elevates pasta sauce from meh to wow without even trying, and at no additional cost or time spent foraging through the woods for exotic truffles. In my house, cracking open a jar of pasta sauce on weeknights counts as cooking, and using pasta water can help my sauce (whether pesto or tomato) from lobbing itself into a puddly mess on my plate.
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As HuffPost describes in a recent article, "The starch in your pasta water...is an emulsifying agent and also a thickener. So if you save some of your pasta water and then slowly mix a [ladleful] of it into sauce, you’re binding together the liquids and oils, creating something creamy and thick that won’t ever separate into a puddly mess."
For a full exploration of the purpose of pasta water and how to reserve the liquid, read HuffPost's full article here. For a deep dive into the smoking points of cooking oils, hit me up.