The Folklore of Pasta

by wjw on July 4, 2010

It occurs to me that pasta seems to be the foodstuff with more folklore and superstition attached to it than any other.

My mom, for example, always poured oil into the pasta water in order to keep the pasta from sticking together. It also kept the water from boiling over.

When the pasta was cooked, she’d rinse it in hot water in a colander, “to wash off the extra starch.” (I think it was Kathy who first pointed out to me that pasta is 100% starch anyway, so the whole rinsing thing seems a little futile.)

Mario Batali states forthrightly that you shouldn’t put oil in the pasta water, because pasta coated with oil won’t absorb the sauce properly. And Mario also states that if you rinse off stray grains of starch, you’re also making it harder for the sauce to stick.
Paul Prudhomme, on the other hand, says that you not only should have oil floating on your pasta water, but that you should throw the raw pasta through the lakes of oil, and he says that you can taste the difference, and in a good way.
I’m inclined to go with Mario on this, though perhaps I should conduct a proper experiment and gather evidence.
Have any of you encountered any more great pasta folklore?

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