How many times has this happened to you: You grab pasta out of the cupboard. Look at the package. Cooking time is 11 minutes. Perfect, I can wait that long. But wait… I have to boil the dang water. How long does that take? Five hours?! Screw it! I'm going to get a chicken sandwich! [End scene that may be more reminiscent of my life than yours.] There's gotta be a better way—and apparently, there kind of is: You can cook pasta starting with cold water… if you're careful.
Earlier this week, Twitter user drive45music went viral with what seemed like nothing more than an attempt at a funny post. "My girlfriend just added uncooked pasta to cold water and then turned on the stove and when i said that she should boil the water before adding pasta she said 'literally all men are the same,'" he wrote. Little did he realize that he was about to spawn a genuine debate on whether you can cook pasta starting with cold water—one that's gotten him over 26,000 retweets and 266,000 likes.
my girlfriend just added uncooked pasta to cold water and then turned on the stove and when i said that she should boil the water before adding pasta she said “literally all men are the same”— ☆drive45☆ (@drive45music) October 14, 2019
Among those who chimed in in favor of the technique was none other than Alton Brown. "This man's girlfriend is right on both counts," he said in one tweet. In another, he admitted, "I start all my dry pasta in cold water." He then pointed everyone to a post on his website from 2015 entitled, "Cold Water Method Pasta." There, he states, "Although I may be blocked from ever entering Italy again for saying this: I have come to prefer the texture of dry pasta started in cold water"—though he also specifies that it works better for "short shapes like farfalle, macaroni and rigatoni."
However, our own Culinary Director-at-Large Justin Chapple was hesitant to outright recommend the cold water method. "As Food & Wine's resident Mad Genius, I would certainly be the one to celebrate this quirky, outside-the-box cooking technique for pasta. After all, I'm guilty of making this easy no-boil baked pasta and this bizarre but addictive pasta bundt loaf," he begins. "However, since the Food & Wine Test Kitchen puts our recipes through an extensive testing process to ensure they work every single time, I'd have to say there's far less room for error when cooking pasta in boiling water."
Scientifically speaking, water that is boiling is pretty much at one temperature: boiling. On the other hand, as water goes from cold to boiling, it travels through a range of temperatures. That's an added variable, along with the pasta potentially taking up too much water or making the package directions moot to the point that you need to babysit the pot. "Cooking pasta the traditional method requires just a couple of things: enough water to submerge the pasta and enough heat to cause it to boil," Chapple says. "As long as you meet those requirements you can follow the suggested cooking time for any noodle shape. But there are far more variables when starting pasta in cold water such as how much water you are starting with, how long the water takes to heat, whether it is fresh or dried pasta, and the density of the particular shape. You really need to pay much more attention to the process."
So, to put it another way, by starting cold, you're playing with fire. Unless you have an electric stove, in which case you're, uh, playing with electricity.