Friday, September 26, 2014

Here is why you should never, ever put salt in your pasta water

There is plenty of sodium in my organic whole-wheat shells with canned sardines and anchovies -- in the bottled sauce and canned fish I use, and in the grated sheep's milk cheese I sprinkle on before I eat it. So, there is absolutely no reason to add salt to the water I boil to cook the pasta, above. Nor do I use gallons of water; enough water to cover the dried pasta works fine.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss making pasta without salting the water and the appeal of comfort foods at every meal, and provide an update on a shortage of Christopher Ranch garlic at Costco Wholesale. 


I'm here to ignore decades of advice from Italy, instructions on the box and American chefs on adding salt to the water I boil for cooking dried pasta.

And while I'm at it, don't waste water. You don't need the several gallons of water called for on the package when you are making spaghetti or other pasta.

Usually, as with the pound of shells I prepared on Thursday night, water to cover the dried pasta is enough.

Adam Weiss, a 37-year-old Ridgewood chef who thinks he will live forever, was quoted in the paper the other day on his "simplest tip for improving home cooking."

"When a box of pasta tells you to put one teaspoon in for a gallon of water, no! It has to be salted like the ocean because ... you want the salt to adhere to the pasta," Weiss claims.

"I use a quarter to half a cup."


Take sodium out

I certainly don't want to add salt, because every time I prepare shells with canned sardines, anchovies and capers in bottled pasta sauce, I try to reduce the sodium of the dish.

I drain the anchovies and rinse them under the faucet. 

The two to three cans of Moroccan Sardines with Tomato Sauce that go into the sauce I use have the lowest amount of sodium of the three varieties sold at Fattal's in Paterson (99 cents a can).

I also rinse the capers under the faucet.

Bottled pasta sauce contains a lot of sodium. 

I use Kirkland Signature Marinara, sold in 32-ounce bottles at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, adding several ounces of red wine and extra-virgin olive oil, plus red-pepper flakes, dried Italian seasoning, powdered or fresh garlic and black pepper.

There is more sodium in Pecorino Romano, a grated sheep's milk cheese from Italy sold at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, where I get most of the ingredients for the dish.

The organic whole-wheat shells from Italy are sold at Whole Food Market in Paramus for $1.39 (1-pound box).

Adjust cooking time

If you buy the 365 Everyday Value Organic Whole Wheat Shells from Whole Foods, be sure to adjust the recommended cooking time (14-15 minutes) to 10-11 minutes.

The box recommends five quarts of water and "a pinch of salt," if you use the entire pound.

Luigi Vitelli-brand Organic Whole Wheat Capellini also recommends using five quarts of water, but calls for one tablespoon of salt and a cooking time of 3 minutes. 

I usually drain the pasta a little early, add it to the sauce, which I prepare in a large, non-stick pan; combine them well and cook them with the cover on for a couple of minutes to combine flavors.

Other sauces

I've followed the no-salt rule even when I don't use sodium-laden bottled pasta sauce.

When I made my own pesto sauce, using a blender recipe from the late Marcella Hazan, I eliminated the teaspoons of salt she called for, knowing there was plenty of sodium in a chief ingredient -- a half-cup plus two tablespoons of grated Pecorino Romano Cheese.

I also eliminated the butter she used.

Now, I buy Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto from Costco Wholesale and add nothing but the sauce to whole-wheat pappardelle or other pasta.

Costco's pesto contains 26% of your recommended intake of sodium in a quarter-cup serving, so adding salt to the pasta water would be foolhardy.

Organic Whole-Wheat Shells with Sardines, Anchovies, Capers and Pine Nuts is a comforting dish for dinner, above, or for breakfast with an egg-white omelet stuffed with reduced-fat sliced Swiss cheese and Mexican green salsa, below.

After plating and heating up the leftover shells in the microwave, I drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil.

Another comfort dish, mashed sweet potatoes and kabocha squash with extra-virgin olive oil, is a great foundation for two organic eggs sunny side up with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese from Costco, and Aleppo pepper and za'atar thyme mixture from Fattal's in Paterson.

Grilled wild Canadian sockeye salmon, $8.99 a pound at Costco, and mashed sweet potatoes and squash are delicious accented with bottled Mexican green salsa, above and below. Medium-hot green salsas are available at Hackensack Market, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, Target, ShopRite and other stores.

The salmon spends 8 minutes on a grill pan over medium to medium-high heat, turned once, for medium rare, and 10 minutes for cooked through, and continues to cook when the pan is taken off the heat.

Christopher Ranch garlic

I just got a return call from customer service at Christopher Ranch, which supplies garlic to Costco Wholesale.

On my last trip, the Hackensack warehouse store was out of the refrigerated 3-pound bag of peeled California garlic, which I use with pasta, rice, egg, mashed sweet potatoes and other dishes.

The woman says Christopher Ranch has been unable to keep up with the demand from Costco members, and also supply the other stores that sell its garlic.

The shortage at my Hackensack warehouse store isn't related to the drought in California.

A 3-pound bag of peeled Christopher Ranch Monviso Garlic is only $5.99 at Costco.

Peeled California garlic from Christopher Ranch makes it easy -- perhaps too easy -- to add this healthy ingredient to home-cooked meals, including boiling it with sweet potatoes before mashing, below. Better too much garlic than too much salt.


  1. Disagree.

    You can have your pasta be a bland vehicle for salty sauce.

    I'll take pasta that has some flavor and not have to rely on anchovies and capers and stuff, hoping some of it rubs off on my pasta.

    Enjoy your bland pasta. Some people like it that way.

  2. You sound like your whole life is bland besides the high blood pressure.

    My pasta cooks in the sauce for a few minutes and is vibrant and full of flavor.


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