For Bon Appetit, by Alex Delany.
When you host a dinner party, timing is everything. Serving a few dishes that require different ingredients and techniques can make for a stressful night of cooking. Time management is key, and if you’re going to be serving pasta (because everyone loves some pasta), it’s easy for your noodles to overcook while your mind is on seven other things. Luckily for you, there’s a way to avoid the stress of making sure your pasta is cooked just right, exactly when you want it. With a bit of oil, a Ziploc bag, some water, and your favorite pasta, you can cook noodles a day in advance and forget about them until a few minutes before serving. Less anxiety. More pasta.
According to senior food editor Rick Martinez, you can cook your penne or gemelli or bucatini up to 48 hours before you want to serve it, but really, any time that day is fine. Once your noodles are finished boiling (al dente), you can take them out of the pot, while reserving some pasta water for whatever beautiful sauce you’ll be making later that night. Martinez say you should take one or two tablespoons of olive oil and drizzle it onto your noodles, tossing them to make sure they are all coated. Once your noodles cool for about 15 minutes, dump them in a large Ziploc bag and put the sealed bag in the refrigerator.
Coating your noodles in olive oil is the key to this entire process. Not only does the oil give them a subtle flavor, it also helps to control moisture in the bag. Dry noodles are bad for business. When the moisture leaves the pasta, the noodles get sticky and clumpy. A coating of olive oil provides a barrier, keeping the moisture in, the air out, and your pasta fresh and separated.
At this point, your noodles have been off-duty in the fridge for a while, but now it’s time to get them back in action. Serving time is near. Set your pasta pot on the stove and bring salted water to a boil. Now, you want to shock the pasta you’ve already cooked in the boiling water. Martinez cautions that you shouldn’t cook your noodles any more than they’ve already been cooked, so a 30 second soak is all you need. While talking to Martinez, he explained that the point here is to warm the pasta to serving temperature and remove most of the oil. Once your noodles have been warmed and strained, you can continue cooking them as if they were just brought out of the pot for the first time.
An extra 10 minutes makes a huge difference when you have 4 or 5 dishes to serve to a group of hungry people. It’s all about finding ways to minimize frantic scrambling (and cold, ready-too-soon pasta), and this preemptive technique does just that. Even if you don’t use your 10 minutes for your other dishes, at least you’ll have some time to take a breath and grab the magnum to pour a glass of wine for yourself.
You’ve got your noodles, now it’s time to finish the job with one of our favorite pasta recipes.
Editor in Chief Adam Rapoport Runs You Through the Easiest Cheesiest Pasta:
More from Bon Appetit: