Q: What is the best way to refrigerate cooked pasta? How long will it last?
— Ann Seeloff, Lake Orion, Mich.
A: Store plain (no sauce or other ingredients) cooked pasta in a container or plastic sealable bag in the refrigerate for up to five days and up to three months in the freezer. Some sources put the freezer time at two weeks. But I’ve successfully frozen cooked pasta longer than two weeks without any effect on quality or taste.
If you plan on cooking more pasta than you need or cooking it ahead of time to use in recipes where it will be reheated, it’s a good idea to slightly under-cook the pasta.
Once the pasta is cooked (see cooking method below), drain it well in a colander. Some sources say to rinse it before storing. I’ve stored rinsed and not rinsed pasta in the refrigerator and freezer with the same results.
Before storing, make sure the cooked pasta isn’t superhot when you add it to the plastic bag. And once you do put it in the bag, don’t seal it. Wait a few more minutes until the pasta is cooled. Before sealing or covering with a lid, drizzle the pasta with a little olive oil, which prevents it from clumping together.
If freezing, it’s a good idea to store the pasta in portion sizes you will use.
Place the pasta in the refrigerator or freezer. When ready to use it from the refrigerator, reheat the pasta in boiling water or use it as directed in your recipe. You also can heat it in the microwave on high for a few minutes.
Do you cook your pasta in a big pot of boiling salted water? Me too; always have. That’s the way it’s recommended in many Italian cookbooks and in the directions on packages or boxes of pasta. And that’s the way I’ve answered readers: cook pasta in lots of seasoned boiling water. But could it be we’ve been being wasteful all this time and doing it all wrong? A month or so ago on social media, someone shared a video deeming so. It was by Harold McGee, who writes about the chemistry of food and cooking.
In the video, McGee puts a good amount of dry spaghetti in a large, shallow skillet or frying pan. He adds cold water (about 1 1/2 quarts – not the typical 4 to 6 quarts called for in most directions) to just about cover the pasta and brings it to a boil. The cold water, McGee says, prevents the pasta from sticking together. While there is a little effort in that you have to keep stirring the pasta, the method saves water and energy. I tried it and it does work. And any residual starchy liquid left in the pan can be added to your sauce.
After a YouTube.com search, I found McGee’s 2009 Curious Cook column in the New York Times on this subject with this explanation:
“Why can pasta cook normally in a small volume of water that starts out cold? Because the noodles absorb water only very slowly at temperatures much below the boil, so little happens to them in the few minutes it takes for the water to heat up.”
Servings: 4 (6 side-dish servings). Preparation time: 10 minutes. Total time: 30 minutes.
One of the easiest pasta dishes you’ll ever make, this is great as a light meal or as a side dish, especially for grilled fish. It’s terrific hot or cold.
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 large lemons)
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 pound dried spaghetti
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Set the lemon sauce aside.
(The sauce can be made up to 8 hours ahead. If you do so, cover and refrigerate it, then bring it back to room temperature before you use it.)
Meanwhile, place the spaghetti in a large skillet and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook, while stirring, until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Most of the water will absorb.
Drain the spaghetti, reserving any cooking liquid in the skillet.
Add the spaghetti to the lemon sauce and toss it with the basil and lemon zest.
Add reserved cooking liquid to moisten it.
Season the pasta with more salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer it to bowls and serve.
Nutrition information: 532 calories (48 percent from fat), 29 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 54 g carbohydrates, 14 g protein, 516 mg sodium, 9 mg cholesterol, 197 mg calcium, 3 g fiber.
Adapated from “Everyday Italian” by Giada De Laurentiis