Using Your Noodle
by Kate Heyhoe
One thing you'll rarely find in my pantry anymore is a partially empty box of dried pasta. But you might find a bowl of yesterday's cooked pasta lurking in my fridge—naked, without sauce or seasoning, and ready to turn into an entirely new dish.
Nothing can be more annoying than having a mass of spaghetti spew all over the cupboard, like edible pick-up-sticks. I used to just cook what I needed for a recipe, which tended to be about 2/3 or 3/4 of a pound of dried pasta. The remaining uncooked noodles would then have to wait for another box to be open, before joining a portion of the new noodles in a pot. Sometimes I would tape the leftover box shut to prevent it from falling over and spilling about. But usually I just pushed it back in the cabinet and walked away. Error.
This led me to noodle around with meal-morphing. Instead of retaining a few dozen threads of dried pasta, I started cooking the whole one-pound box at a time. I'd use as much as necessary for that evening's meal, then store the remaining cooked pasta in the fridge, adding a bit of pasta-cooking water and sealing tightly.
What does one do with leftover, cooked pasta? Anything your noodle can conjure up. It's a tasty filler or side dish and a handy time-saver. For instance, just a few ways to use leftover cooked pasta are in a pasta frittata, as pan-fried noodles for chow mein, dressed and tossed into salads, heated in soups or broth, wrapped around chicken and deep-fried, chopped and fried in curry powder and oil until crispy to make a spicy garnish, mixed with a sauce and baked as a casserole, tossed with olive oil or butter and garlic as a side dish—the uses are limitless.
Tips for cooking pasta
- Don't add oil to the water. Oil coats the pasta, preventing the sauce from being absorbed.
- Cook with plenty of water. Pasta needs to cook in boiling water, but when you add pasta to the water, it brings the temperature down. Use 4 quarts of water for 1 pound of pasta to help get the water back up to a boil quickly.
- Add salt to the water. Adding salt just as the water comes to a boil helps raise the temperature of the water. Also, salt flavors the pasta, and you'll use less salt if the pasta cooks in salted water than if you add salt afterwards. Use 1 teaspoon salt to 4 quarts boiling water.
- Reserve 1 cup of the pasta-cooking water before draining. After the pasta has drained, Italians add a bit of the reserved water to it in a bowl or pan before saucing. This helps loosen the strands and also keeps the pasta moister, so you don't have to add gallons of sauce.
- Keep pasta warm for short periods by draining it in a colander and covering it with a pot lid.
To reheat cooked, unsauced pasta
- To reheat pasta you've cooked earlier that day: When the pasta is 'al dente' or cooked until just tender with still a bit of bite to it, drain it by scooping it out of the pot into a colander or using a colander insert that fits inside the pot. *Don't throw out the hot water.* Just before serving, bring the water back up to a boil, then plunge the pasta back into it and stir gently to loosen. It only takes a few seconds and doesn't really cook the pasta, it just warms it up. When the pasta is separated again, drain and sauce.
- Or, place the pasta in a microwave safe bowl, add a bit of pasta water, cover and microwave on high to steam it for a few seconds; periodically check for doneness and stir gently with a chopstick or fork to loosen.
To freeze cooked pasta
- Store the pasta in a sealed container in the fridge with a small amount of cooking water until cold, then freeze. I use plastic freezer bags or special plastic storage containers that can go directly from freezer to microwave.
- If you have only small amounts of leftover pasta, start and odd 'n' ends bag in the freezer, gradually accumulating enough to use in a full recipe.
One of my favorite recipes for using leftover pasta is included below. In fact, Pasta Frittata and crispy Chinese noodle pancakes actually work best with pasta that has been cooked, chilled, and not reheated, allowing the noodles to stay firm when cooked within the new dish.
Copyright © 2002, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created June 2002