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The Green Life: And To Think I Honeymooned in Italy...

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February 27, 2009

And To Think I Honeymooned in Italy...

Pasta OK, how many of you like pasta? I thought so: everybody. How many of you live someplace where water scarcity is a concern, or where there's been a drought recently? Probably at least a third of you, and that number is on the rise. Last question: How many of you think about energy costs and conserving energy? Chances are, if you read this blog, nearly all of you.

So what's the connection between pasta, water, and energy use? Well, Americans cook something on the order of a billion pounds of pasta each year, using a whole lot of water (and trillions of BTUs to boil it) in the process. For some years now I've been increasingly aware of how much water I dump down the drain every time I cook a pot of pasta. But I figured that's just the way it is.

Until today, that is, when an article in the newspaper caught my eye: "How Much Water Does Pasta Really Need?" by food writer and lecturer Harold McGee. "Why boil so much more water than pasta actually absorbs, only to pour it down the drain?" McGee asks. "Couldn't we cook pasta just as well with much less water and energy?"

Most cookbooks and pasta packages suggest 4 to 6 quarts of water to cook a pound of pasta. But McGee found that his pasta came out just fine when he used as little as 1.5 to 2 quarts of water. He had to stir the noodles more often, which can be a distraction if you're cooking several items at once, but he also reaped the dividends of the leftover pasta water, which he describes as "very pleasant-tasting," and which made an appealingly creamy sauce when mixed with olive oil.

The Italian cooks he contacted to try his water-saving method initially found the idea "blasphemous," but eventually admitted that using less water is "doable." Still, this could be a hard sell. I excitedly thrust McGee's article this afternoon into the hands of a Sierra Club colleague, who promptly dismissed it, saying, "I like my pasta to dance in the pot." I, for one, am going to try McGee's method this weekendwithout telling my wife beforehand, if possible...

--Tom Valtin

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