Washing the dishes isn’t fun. It especially sucks when they’ve just had tomato sauce in them. The microwave’s right there, and it’s much faster than waiting for a big ol’ pot of water to boil. Here’s how I cook pasta for one person.
Comments on Pasta Done-ness
The cook times on the back of the pasta box are dead wrong. I like it al dente, and if I followed those times I’d have sad and limp noodles.
Before I go any further, you really should go read John Siracusa’s magnum opus on how to cook pasta. If you’re cooking for 2 or more people, just follow his guidelines instead. I’ve cribbed from this liberally for the microwave method I use.
No, really, go read it. This’ll still be here when you’re done.
In Which I Contradict Myself
You can buy plastic gizmos at the store, or you’ll see them advertised on TV, that claim to be perfect for cooking pasta in the microwave. They probably work, but…there’s no secret to them. I use a large Pyrex1 measuring cup and it works fine. The key part of those devices has nothing to do with the device itself: it’s just that they tell you to cook the pasta for 2 to 3 minutes longer than the box says to. We’ve already established that the box times are bullshit, but since I usually knock 2 to 3 minutes off that time to get a good estimate of how long to actually cook the pasta for…
…just cook the pasta in the microwave for as long as it says on the box. Really.
Pour some pasta into a microwave-safe vessel with plenty of extra room at the top. I use a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Salt the living daylights out of your pasta, then add cold water from the tap. There should be enough water to cover the pasta after it expands, and ideally your vessel is large enough that boiling water won’t escape over the sides. Then, throw it in the microwave and set the timer to 75% of the box’s recommended cook time. (If it’s a range of times, set it to the lower option). I like to do this so there’s a chance to check on the pasta before it goes beyond the point of no return. Most of the time, the remaining 25% will get you right there.
Don’t Waste That Pasta Water
Warm bowls are really nice. It’s a little thing, but every little thing helps. This is another tip I learned from Siracusa’s piece: put the pasta bowl(s) under your strainer, and let that hot pasta water sit in the bowl until it’s ready to accept the pasta. You may find this easier if you get a colander with arms that sits on the edge of the sink so you don’t have to hold it – I certainly do. Once you’ve strained the pasta, pour it back into your warm just-microwaved vessel and add whatever sauce you’re going to add. Since I assume you’re also cooking for one, I’m not going to go on about the superiority of homemade pasta sauce here. I’ve never made it. Just crack that jar open and pour some in, mix it up well, then empty your serving/eating bowl (careful, it’s hot and full of pasta water!) and refill it with pasta and sauce. Grate2 some Parmesan cheese on top while you’re at it. If you’re clever, you had some garlic bread cooking away in the toaster oven while you were doing all this.