Pasta is quite an important subject in Italy. Italian companies produce on average 3.6 millions of tons of pasta each year, and Italians eat approximately 23 Kg each per year per person. Given the rise in gas prices and increasing awareness of the impact our food consumption has on the environment, many have rediscovered a way of cooking pasta that was used more than 300 years ago, in the eighteenth century. While not without controversy, it is absolutely possible to cook pasta without constant fuel and using less water. Forget complicated procedures and high tech tools: this method requires no more than a pot with a lid, water, a hob, salt and your favorite type of pasta of course!
It is very simple: instead of cooking pasta with the burner on for the whole time, you can simply turn the hob off after boiling your pasta for 2 minutes. A team of analysts working for Perfect Food Consulting have put this method to scientific test, and they have tried to estimate if it actually has an impact on households bills and on the environment. (Spoiler alert…yes, it has!) The research has been commissioned by the Pastai Italiani (the Italian association of pasta makers), and the method has also been mentioned by the Nobel prize winner in physics, Giorgio Parisi.
How does it work?
First thing first, you don’t need a whole pot full of boiling water to cook pasta. 700 ml of water is more than enough to cook 100 grams of pasta. The most obvious impact is a reduction by 30% of water consumption, but given that you have to warm up less water (usually it is 1 liter per 100 grams of pasta), you’ll also cut 13% of your energy usage simply by boiling less water.
Then, the lid. It seems obvious, but putting the lid on the pot when warming up the water can speed up the process (the water gets to 100 degrees faster because there is less thermal dispersion), and this can save 6% of the energy used if the lid was not on the pot. If you are based in the UK, you probably already use an electric kettle to boil your water for pasta. If you are not, and you own an electric kettle, this is a quick way to reduce your gas-based cooking fuel and increase your electricity-based cooking fuel (it is also faster).
As soon as the water is boiling and you’ve added the salt and the pasta, count 120 seconds (that’s 2 minutes). Then turn the burner off, put the lid back on the pot and wait for the remaining time, following the instructions on the package. So if the pasta instructions are to cook for 10 minutes, after 2 minutes with the burner on, pop the lid back on the pot and wait the remaining 8 minutes with the burner off.
This method is called passive cooking. It can save 47% of CO2 emissions. If a person eats 23.5 kg of pasta every year, which is the Italian average consumption, we are talking about 44.6 kW of energy saved, 13.2 Kg of CO2 saved and 69 liters of water saved. If everyone in Europe and the Americas cooked pasta this way, we could save 10m tons of CO2 per year! (I couldn’t get reliable data on pasta consumption in the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and Asia, so have excluded these regions). Even more importantly, in these times of economic inflation, it can save you up to 47% on your energy bills as well (that’s the energy bill associated with cooking, not total, in case that wasn’t obvious).
Of course different types of pasta may react differently. For example, it is better to wait until the spaghetti (or any other long pasta formats) are under the water before starting to count 2 minutes, and you can use this method only with dried pasta (fresh pasta will cook in under less than 2 minutes anyway, unless you want a solid brick of flour).
This is the general rule that Italians are rediscovering, and of course you can adjust it to your taste, adding minutes or cooking the pasta for less time. The passive cooking method was re-popularized recently by the Italian physicist, Giorgio Parisi, and this method was reposted on a number of sustainability websites. However, it is not without dissent from some Italian chefs who claim it impacts the texture and taste of pasta negatively. Despite the controversy, it is certainly worth a try in the average family home to see if you can taste the difference or see the savings.