Whose side are you on?
Giorgio Parisi, an Italian theoretical physicist and professor at Sapienza University, has studied some of the universe’s most complex problems. He even won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for his “discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems.” He also happens to be an enthusiastic amateur chef who enjoys the “theoretical and experimental part” of meal prep.
So when Parisi explained a more energy-efficient method of cooking pasta on his Facebook page, he may have thought it was just another interesting observation about the world. Instead, Parisi launched a country-wide controversy and found himself being criticized by some of Italy’s top chefs.
This all started when Parisi suggested that we should turn the burner off after adding pasta to a pot of boiling water. “After bringing the water to a boil, just throw in the pasta and wait two minutes,” he explained. “Then you can turn off the gas, put the lid on and calculate one minute longer than the indicated cooking time.”
This method, he said, saves “at least eight minutes of energy consumption” — and those minutes add up. According to Forbes, the average Italian eats over 50 pounds of pasta every year, and the average person could save around $6 in energy costs annually. Country-wide, that equates to a savings of approximately $47.6 million and 350 million kilowatt hours (kWh) every year. Parisi’s cooking method also reduces each individual’s carbon emissions by about 13.3 kg annually.
Despite the potential economic and environmental benefits of Parisi’s pasta-prep style, it wasn’t exactly well-received. Antonello Colonna, whose Labico, Italy restaurant has received one Michelin star, told La Repubblica that this method will just result in a pot of rubbery pasta. “I remember it well when at my parent’s house, the gas cylinder went out just as the spaghetti was cooking, and when that happened, [we] were in trouble because the consistency of the product was now compromised,” he said.
Chef Luigi Pomata added that “it would be a disaster” to turn the heat off as pasta cooks. “Let’s leave cooking to chefs while physicists do experiments in their lab.”
Last week, David Fairhurst, a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science & Technology, took Parisi’s ideas even further and determined that the most energy-efficient way to cook dried pasta starts by pre-soaking the pasta in cold water for two hours, then halve the recommended amount of water and gently simmer the pasta instead of bringing it to a rolling boil, keeping a lid on the pot as it cooks.
As Fairhurst wrote, “We aren’t all Michelin-starred chefs or Nobel Prize-winning physicists, but we can all make a difference in the way we cook to reduce energy bills while still producing great-tasting food.” Now it’s up to you which side of the argument you’re on.