There’s a reason pasta is a staple weeknight dinner: It is always delicious and comforting.
But, let’s be honest. Ease is one of the first things that comes to mind when we think about making pasta. The thing is, it can take 20 minutes (or more) to bring a big pot of water to a boil. If you’re rushing to get dinner on the table between work or school and soccer practice or other evening activities, that can really slow you down, even if you’ve done some meal prep ahead of time to have the sauce ready.
This summer, I fell down a rabbit hole (or more accurately a Facebook thread) about toasting dry pasta before you cook it. This lead me to discover a brilliant, two step no-boil method for keeping pasta prepped in the fridge, ready to toss in a sauce. This genius meal prep hack starts with a hot oven: You’re going to toast your pasta.
Why Toasting Makes Pasta Prep Possible
One way to prep pasta would be to simply store it in water in the fridge, so it’s already soft when you want to use it. But there’s a problem: If you were to simply put dry, uncooked pasta in a bowl of water and let it soak overnight, you would end up with overly wet, mushy noodles that would eventually fall apart. You’ve probably seen this happen in a leftover noodle soup or two. But toasting it will stop that from happening.
Toasting pasta isn’t a new concept (Ideas in Food wrote about it on their site in 2009 and in their 2010 book of the same name), but I’d completely forgotten about this idea until it popped up in a Facebook group for food-obsessed friends of the podcast Forever35. That’s when I started investigating.
Lots of people toast pasta strictly for the nutty flavor it adds but there’s an unexpected benefit: When the starches are toasted, they absorb a lot less water, so they’re difficult to overcook. This means that toasted pasta takes longer to cook in boiling water. But it’s perfect for soaking.
Surprisingly, soaking toasted pasta only absorbs enough water to be al dente. And it stays sturdy in the water for days in the fridge, making it ideal for meal prep.
Here’s How to Meal Prep Pasta Without Boiling It
To toast pasta, start with a hot oven. (This is perfect if your weekend meal prep already includes roasted vegetables or proteins). An oven temperature between 350 and 375 degrees works well. Spread one pound of dried pasta out into an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and then toast for 10 to 12 minutes until the pasta has darkened slightly in color (like the image above). Then let it cool completely.
A word of caution: If you decide to skip meal prep and want to boil your toasted pasta and eat it right away, it will take significantly longer (say 15 minutes more) to reach al dente.
After it cools, combine the pasta with about two quarts of water. Lots of sources suggest soaking the pasta in a plastic bag, but this has resulted in many a leak for me, so I use a large container or even a baking dish I can cover. The pasta needs a minimum of two hours at room temperature to soften, but overnight in the fridge is ideal. It keeps well for up to five days.
When you’re ready to eat, simply drain it and put it in your favorite sauce. If you’re warming the sauce on the stove, a minute or so is all you need to get the pasta hot enough to eat.
Get some recipe ideas: Every Single Pasta Recipe You Could Ever Need (All in One Place)
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