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Forget Boiling: How to Cook Dried Pasta and Stretch Your Stove Fuel

Cooking Alpine Spaghettin in the 1 Liter Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot
Cooking Alpine spaghetti in the 1 Liter Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot

Many of us eat ramen noodles on the trail because they cook so fast, but shy away from dried pasta because it takes so long to cook and uses too much stove fuel.

But did you know that you don’t have boil dried pasta using the amount of water recommended on the package or for the entire boil time?

Simply cover your noodles with water, bring the water to a boil, give your noodles a stir, and then turn off the heat (keeping the pot covered) Full stop. Your pasta will cook in the same amount of time and to the same texture as it would have if it cooked at a full boil.

You can save a lot of fuel this way and enjoy your favorite spaghetti noodles or shapes. It also means that you don’t need a simmering capable stove to cook plain pasta and that bringing a pot cozy is probably a better investment than carrying more fuel.

More Pasta Cooking Tips:

If you have a small pot and want to cook spaghetti, break the noodles in halves or thirds so they’ll fit in your cook pot.

Save the pasta water that’s left over after your pasta has cooked. It makes a very good base for rehydrating pasta sauce and the starch in the water helps keep the sauce on your noodles. Not using sauce? Drink the water for the added calories.

You don’t need to drain the water out of the pot when you cook pasta, it’s perfectly ok to pick it out of the pot with a fork.

You don’t need to add olive oil to your pasta to keep it from sticking together. It actually makes it harder to keep the sauce on your pasta because it slips off.

You don’t need to add salt to your water to raise the boiling point of the water, so your pasta cooks faster. In reality, you would need to add 230 grams of table salt to a liter of water just to raise the boiling point by 2 degrees celsius, more than anyone could tolerate.

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  1. I’ve never used the recommended amount of water when cooking pasta, even at home. I just don’t see the need to heat up that much water, only to pour most of it off.

  2. When do you start timing it? When the water boils?

  3. Instead of spaghetti, use angel hair pasta. It is thinner so it cooks faster and works well with freezer bag cooking.

  4. 230 grams = 0.5 pounds. “I’m ultralight so I can carry all that extra salt I need to boil my pasta a few seconds faster!!!” :-)

    Great tip!

  5. I was always told that adding salt to the water merely bad it bubble at a lower temperature. If that’s true, then adding salt to the water won’t help the pasta cook faster because the water would be at a lower temperature. Also if a person is using questionable (contaminated) water to cook the pasta in, adding salt to it would not be heating water to the correct temperature (not killing bacteria,) it would actually be bubbling at a lower temp. Do you know if there is any truth to this?

    • It’s actually the opposite of what you’ve been told. Impurities in a solution raise the amount of energy change needed for the solution to change phase. So salt in water causes liquid water to need more heat added to boil and need more heat lost to freeze (why we salt roads in wintertime). This is reflected in higher boiling temperature and lower freezing temperature. Shorthand, it’s referred to as boiling point elevation and freezing point depression.

    • The basic premise that water doesn’t get hot as fast or boils at a lower temperature is incorrect.

      Salt raises the boiling point ( it has to be hotter before it bubbles (water turning to steam)). This means that it gets hotter befor it evaporates; cooking the food faster.

      Salt would have little effect on microbes.

      The amount of salt to raise the boiling point even a couple of degrees would give you diarrhea. (That’s why castaways can’t drink sea water). The whole idea is an old wives tail either way.

  6. If you pre-cook and then dehydrate pasta at home, it rehydtrates quickly with only hot water. Penne is my favorite.

  7. I just give it a half ounce or so of alcohol stove fuel, and let it soak in a nice pot koozie for a while. After that, it is what it is! The good news is that the more time in the woods, the more hungry, and less picky you are about things like consistency and flavor.

  8. MileStepper has the right idea … the koozie is the key. Presoaking in a plastic peanut butter jar also works and all you have to do is warm up the pasta/water at meal time. I start presoaking the meal prior, e.g. start soaking dinner at lunch, lunch at breakfast…. It’s extra weight but saves fuel in the long run for those longer treks. This also works great with tough dehydrated beef (gravel) and chicken in the cooler months when spoiling is less of an issue.

    • I don’t have the patience to dehydrate my dried pasta in advance or pre-soak it during the day, although those are good alternatives. I just like to boil my water and soak. Easy. No prep. And I can use whatever pasta shapes I find at crappy town resupply stops.

  9. Salt is important for flavor in pasta, not for its effect on the boiling point. Addition of salt to water increases the water temperature at which the water boils (although only a very little, as Phil notes above). The reason you see bubbles when adding salt to water that is about to boil is because the salt provides a very large surface area for nucleation of the steam bubbles. That’s why the bubbles generally go away quickly and it takes some time to come to a rolling boil after adding the salt.

    • Well, salt actually dissolves in water. It releases a fair amount of heat when it does. This can *seem* to make the water hotter. Especially in the area of the salt granules. Some nucleation is present till the particles dissolve. Hot, not boiling, water will gather the heat faster than convection currents can remove it. So, it actually boils in that area. Salt actually drops heat out of the water, though without much effecting the actual temperature…

      Salt effects the heat content of the water. It *lowers* it. So, while it actually boils at about the same temp as Philip says, it actually takes more fuel to cook spaghetti without salt, since you put more heat into the water. The heat comes out of the water easier when cooking spaghetti *with* salt, therefore making it cook faster. The heated water is about the same temp, though. Hmm…I just remembered, it is called specific heat. Sort of like cooking eggs in a cast iron pan vs an aluminum pan of the same thickness. If you turn off the heat just as you add the egg, it will continue to cook in the cast iron. It will not finish cooking in an aluminum pan, even though both pans were at the same temp to start with.

      Yes, you can boil the spaghetti, then turn off the heat…about the same as making rice. Often spaghetti is about the same once the protien/starch, called gluten, has bound. Takes about 30sec or less at around 200-205F or so. Uncooked spaghetti is a paste, basically flour and water that has turned glutenous.Then it’s dried. It is basically a dried dough. Boiling will actually cook the gluten making the boiled food firmer because the gluten will shrink, acting as a binder for the wheat particles. Putting macaroni products in water, without cooking the gluten will leave a pasty mess over a few hours. The wheat starches will actually just soak up water, swelling as they do and sticking to each other if they are not first bound. Boiling cooks the protein/gluten mass first, then that will prevent sticking together in a large sticky mass, even after a LONG time in water (>72 hours.) The wheat starch simply absorbs water and swells.

      And, yes, everything tastes better with a little salt while camping.

      Without the salt in the water, it still cooks at around the boiling point. It actually works better with cozy cooking to NOT add the salt, the water has more heat in it (basically it will stay hotter, longer.)

      Soo, cooking is required, but it can be done in boiling water for about a minute depending on it’s thickness. Then spreading it out to dry, or putting it in a dehydrator. Then it doesn’t need cooking afterwards. It will still maintain its shape as long as it cooks the gluten.

  10. I made a koozie to go around a plastic Ziploc container with lid. I drop my pasta in there and barely cover it with boiling water and let it sit a few minutes while I do other camp chores. After a while, it’s fully reconstituted and also cooled enough to eat.

    I also made a koozie that fits a quart freezer bag for when I want to go that route.

    I bought a roll of Reflectix at Home Depot, made several koozies, and still have plenty left over. It also makes a pretty good sit pad, although I normally keep a Gossamer Gear SitLight pad in my pack.

    • Ditto. It’s pretty amazing just how hot stuff stays in a reflectix cozy. I only use about 20ml of alcohol or heet in a titanium pot no matter what I’m cooking. It could sit in the pot for an hour and still burn your mouth.

    • I bought a tablet holder shaped like an envelope at the dollar store that is super light. I added a piece of tinfoil to the inside. It holds a gallon size zip lock freezer bag. Works great for rehydrating on the trail.

    • I do both of these too, a 4 cup Ziploc and a reflectix cozy.

      I made a meal recently at home this way, with artichoke angel hair pasta, Outdoor Herbivore Summer Tomato Sauce and some dried mushrooms. Friends loved it and had no idea is was made in a boil in bag.

  11. Cooking pasta is one of my favorite things to do when backpacking. Packs a TON of carbs and it’s super cheap.

    You can just throw it in the pot of cold water right away, no need to wait for a boil. Your cooking times will be a bit off, so keep an eye on the firmness that you desire.

    Also, don’t drain all the water out when it is done. Save a couple tablespoons of it on the bottom. That starchy water adds lots of flavor to it believe it or not. If you mix sauce into the pot after you drain most of the water, it will change the consistency of the sauce and make it stretch a bit further.

    Here’s a tip. Use angel hair pasta. Thin noodles cook much faster than thicker ones like Penne.

  12. Works for cooking other starches like rice and couscous too. Instead of a pot cozy I use my sleeping bag to insulate the pot, and the sleeping bag is nice and toasty for bedtime as well…

  13. Spelt, thanks for the explanation.

  14. I use Couscous. no need to boil at all. A bit of water and 15-20 minutes in the sun and it re-hydrates. If no sun, then you can bring water to a boil and then put in Koozie for a few minutes. Because it is small it re-hydrates faster than other pasta.

  15. This is the buy far the easiest way to do pasta. I dehydrate my homemade sauce, and the use angel hair pasta. I use a kettle to boil the water then just pour it on the mix in my bowl, set the covered in my cozy, and do something else for a bit.

  16. Neat trick! Will this also work for dried pasta like Knorr Sides?

    • I use Knorr Sides often. If I pour boiling water in it and leave it in an insulated environment (koozie, etc.) for a few minutes while I do other camp chores, it will be reconstituted and ready to eat when I get back to it. I often add other dehydrated items to it as well. The Knorr bag is an excellent container for adding the other ingredients and water. It fits into the quart size koozie I made but you have to be careful not to spill since it doesn’t have a resealable top. My koozie has a flap that fits over the top and it secured by velcro.

      I’ve found that sliced mushrooms, broccoli, and green beans dehydrate and rehydrate very well. I’ll keep them in a snack baggie and then put them in the Knorr side before dropping the boiling water in.

  17. Does anyone have a source for good dehydrated pasta sauce so I can prepare my own trail pasta?

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