Who does not love a pasta dish? It is a fast, easy, and filling meal that even the most amateur cook can make. Usually, this meal requires that you boil some pasta in a pot of water, heat up the sauce in another pot, mix, and serve. But, did you know, you can actually boil most types of pasta right in the sauce?
You read that right, the easiest meal just got even easier! The perfect recipe for a quick meal after a long day! You get the same simple and filling meal with one less plate to wash.
This cooking method has always been used for baked pasta but it isn’t typically considered as the cooking method of choice for a bowl of pasta. As pasta lovers we wondered why and thought we’d answer this question for you from our own kitchen.
How to Cook Pasta in Sauce
While cooking pasta in sauce is a little different than boiling it in water, it is still a straightforward process and results in one less pot to wash. We tested this method in our home kitchen using a 2 ½ quart saucepan, a 24 oz jar of tomato sauce and 3 cups of Rotini pasta.
- Step 1: Simply pour the sauce in the pan you will be cooking it in.
- Step 2: Dilute the sauce with 8oz of water and heat covered on a medium heat stirring as needed until it begins to boil (around 200 degrees).
- Step 3: Reduce sauce to a simmer.
- Step 4: Add your dry pasta into the simmering sauce.
- Step 5: Add more water to the sauce if the pasta is not fully immersed. You may also need to add additional water throughout the cooking time to ensure the pasta and sauce does not dry out. (If you’re worried that the sauce will be watered down, don’t be. The starch from the pasta acts as a natural thickener). We added an additional ¼ water after the pasta had been cooking for 6 minutes, 11 minutes and 13 minutes.
- Step 6: Add desired salt and seasoning. We added ½ teaspoon of salt after the pasta had been cooking for 4 minutes.
- Step 7: Stir occasionally to make sure the pasta cooks evenly and does not stick to the pan.
- Step 8: Once the pasta reaches al dente texture, plate and serve! For us this took ~ 14 minutes.
The most important (and trickiest) part of cooking pasta directly in sauce is adding just the right amount of water and salt while cooking to ensure the meal comes out as desired. This may take a few attempts to discover what the right balance is for you.
Once you do, this may be the only way you cook your pasta moving forward!
How Long Does It Take to Cook Pasta in Sauce?
While cooking pasta in the same pan as the sauce reduces the number of dishes you have to wash, it will increase the time it takes for your pasta to reach the desired al dente texture by around 40-50%. Typically, pasta cooked in water will take about 15 to 20 minutes to become al dente. This includes the time is takes for the water to boil. Pasta cooked in sauce can take about between 23-27 minutes to reach the desired texture.
The reason for the difference in cook time is the result of the additional water that must be added to prevent the sauce from drying out and guarantee the pasta is thoroughly cooked. You want to make sure enough of the additional water is absorbed, ensuring the ideal sauce consistency is reached.
If you need your meal prepared very quickly, cooking your pasta in sauce may not be the route you want to take. However, if you are not in a rush or are cooking other items and would like the pasta to be ready at the same time as the other meal components, cooking the pasta in sauce may be your best option as you now know how long it will take.
How Does Cooking Pasta in Sauce Differ From Water?
The technique of cooking pasta directly in sauce results in a few key differences when compared to boiling it in water.
More Attention is Required
Unfortunately, you cannot just drop the pasta in the sauce and walk away for 8 minutes like many people tend to do when boiling it in water [as the instructions on the box are tested for perfection]. You need to stir the sauce frequently to prevent it from burning and keep an eye on the pasta while it is cooking in the sauce. This is because you will need to add water throughout the cooking process as it is absorbed. This prevents the sauce from drying out and ensures the pasta is perfectly cooked.
The Amount of Water Used is Important
While this technique is more environmentally friendly by requiring less water to be used, it is extremely important to use just the right amount.
When boiling pasta in water, you can use as much water as you like to cook the pasta (although recipes typically call for 4-6 quarts of water for every pound of pasta). This is not the case when cooking pasta in sauce. If you do not add enough water, both the pasta and the sauce will dry out. However, if you add too much water, the sauce will be runny and the pasta soggy.
For a 24 oz jar of sauce and 3 cups of Rotini pasta, we added 14oz of water throughout the cooking process to achieve the desired consistency.
While your results may vary depending on the type of sauce and pasta used, do not let this scare you off. Once you cook pasta in sauce a few times using your favorite combinations, you will learn exactly how much water to add to obtain the perfect sauce consistency and pasta texture.
Additional Salt May Be Needed
You may need to add more salt to the pasta sauce than you would usually add to pasta if it were boiling in water, as you are now flavoring both the sauce and the pasta. Our sauce contained 410mg of sodium per serving so we found that only adding ½ teaspoon of salt was the perfect amount.
Higher Starch Levels
Aside from the cooking time, the higher levels of starch in pasta cooked in sauce is the primary difference as compared to pasta boiled in water. This is because the excess starch from the pasta is released into the water while it is boiling. You can discard this starch water, although many avid pasta eaters like to add a little starch water to their sauce when they mix it with the pasta, as they believe it improves the flavor and texture of the sauce.
When cooking pasta in the sauce, the starch is released directly into the sauce, therefore you cannot control the amount of starch that is in the dish.
You may find that you eat less of your pasta when you cook it in the sauce as the greater amount of starch in the food may also cause you to feel full faster.
Taste and Texture
Due to the increased starch retained by the sauce, the taste of the pasta may be slightly different than what you are accustomed. We found the sauce to be less tart as the starchiness took away from some of the fresh tomato flavor. The additional starch can also make the sauce thicker than it would be if you added cooked pasta to it. The latter can be balanced by the amount of water you add while cooking.
Whether or not this improves or impairs the meal is a matter of taste. Some people prefer the taste and texture with the additional starch, while others do not. Many people do not notice a difference.
While some of these differences are more cumbersome than others, like the need to add additional water throughout the cooking process, the overall result is still the same- a quick and filling meal.
What Kind of Pasta Can You Cook in Sauce?
Not every pasta will cook correctly in sauce. While most ziti, rigatoni, and penne will cook to perfection in sauce, longer pastas, like linguine and spaghetti, may not evenly cook. In these cases, you may want to break the pasta in half before placing them in the pan.
If you are one of those pasta eaters that find breaking spaghetti in half to cook a sin, this is not a technique for you. While there are plenty of large pans that can hold spaghetti, the larger the pan the more sauce and water will be required to cook the pasta.
For the best results, this technique should be used for cooking smaller pastas that easily fit in a 2 to 4 quart saucepan and require minimal sauce and water.
Can You Store Pasta in Sauce in the Refrigerator?
Pasta with sauce is usually a filling meal, especially when more of the starch is retained during the cooking process. Chances are, you will have leftovers when you are done eating. Luckily, pasta with sauce can be stored in the fridge.
While cooked pasta should typically be eaten within 3 to 5 days to ensure texture and freshness, the shelf life of pasta in sauce depends on several factors.
- Whether the sauce is cream-based or tomato-based.
- Whether any meat was added to the mixture.
Cream-based sauces, such as alfredo sauce, can last up to a week in the refrigerator, while tomato-based sauces are typically good for a week to 10 days. If meat is added to the sauce sauce, it should be eaten within 2 to 3 days for best quality.
Generally, it is best to eat any leftovers within 2 to 3 days
As with most food, it is important to follow proper storing guidelines. It is recommended that pasta in sauce be refrigerated in an airtight glass or plastic container or a zip lock bag, allowing minimal air to penetrate. If there is any sign of spoiling, such as an odor or mold, the food should be discarded immediately.
While it is important to note there are some noticeable differences between pasta boiled in water and pasta cooked in sauce, if you are an ardent pasta eater, it is definitely worth a try.
While its cooking process takes a little longer than the traditional route of boiling pasta in water, it will save you the time and effort of cleaning another dish. Not to mention, saving a little water for the fishies!