What science says about cooking pasta without gas

What science says about cooking pasta without gas

The name of a Nobel laureate, Giorgio Parisi, the energy crisis and the skyrocketing cost of gas and finally the cooking of pasta: not even the most seasoned of social media managers could mix the best ingredients to get the perfect news. And in fact, it was: in the last week there has been nothing but talk of how to cook pasta without gas - or, more precisely, the possibility of turning off the stove once the pasta has been thrown into boiling water.

These are the facts, if you are one of the few who have not followed the story: last September 1st Giorgio Parisi, Nobel Prize for Physics 2021, shares a post signed by Alessandro Busiri Vici on his Facebook profile, which states that it is actually possible to cook pasta without gas: “After bringing the water to a boil, throw the pasta away and wait two minutes, then you can easily turn off the gas, just use a lid and calculate about an extra minute. At least eight minutes of gas savings! " . This relata refero was enough to unleash the uproar: there are those who said they wanted to try, who were indignant (on the other hand we are a people of saints, poets, navigators and cooks: cooking has always been a taboo subject, woe is to question traditions and conventions), those who have questioned the extent of any savings, those who have declared that they have been doing so for years; pasta makers, chefs and chemists were interviewed, who placed themselves more or less equally on one or the other side; then came the second wave, in which the news became metanotizia, in the sense that the topic of indignation shifted to how much the news itself had been discussed.

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The science of cooking pasta Let's start by looking at what science says about it. The first element to underline is that this is not a new fact. For example, the chemist and popularizer Dario Bressanini had talked about it in unsuspecting times, who in a 2017 video showed how after throwing out the pasta it was "useless to continue wasting gas", since "it is not boiling of the water that cooks the food but the heat, which depends on the temperature reached ”. And in a post published on his blog in Le Scienze he had already noted how sensitive the issue was: “Talking about cooking pasta in Italy is more dangerous than talking bad about one's mother or sister. There are many inalienable rites, adamantine convictions, more or less absolute imperatives, definitive 'don't do it' and very fast excommunications. Aware of walking on eggshells, I put the colander (!) On my head to protect myself from any flames and let's get started ". He was absolutely right.

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How does this blessed method work? Simple: boil the water, add the salt, throw the pasta, mix it, wait for it to boil again and finally turn off the heat, closing the lid tightly and not reopening it until the end of cooking, if necessary lengthening the cooking time a little compared to that shown on the packet of pasta. In short, in order not to overcook the pasta or take it out too al dente, a little more attention is needed than traditional cooking: nothing impossible, however, especially if there is an energy saving on the other side of the scale.

Always Bressanini, retracing the history of cooking food, even refers to a writing by Benjamin Thomson, one of the founders of thermodynamics, dating back to 1799: "All the fuel that is used in boiling it vigorously is wasted , without adding a single degree to the heat of the water, or speeding up or shortening the cooking process by just one second. Since it is from the heat, its intensity and its duration that the food is cooked, and not from the boiling of the water that has no role in that operation ".

Boiling - the bubbles we see in the pot -, in short, has nothing to do with it: especially since the boiling temperature depends on atmospheric pressure, and in fact at high altitudes the water boils earlier than on the sea ​​level, yet the mountaineers eat equally good pasta. A few more details: "The cooking of pasta is mainly governed by three factors - continues Bressanini - the speed of penetration of the water inside the dough, the gelatinization of the starch and the denaturation and consequent coagulation of gluten. All these phenomena depend on the temperature. The water penetrates the dough even at low temperatures, even in cold water, but the higher the temperature, the faster it enters the dough. Starch gelatinization is that phenomenon in which the starch granules absorb water and form a gel. Wheat starch gelatinizes between 60 ° C and 70 ° C. Gluten denatures and coagulates between 70 ° C and 80 ° C. Note that these are all temperatures well below the common boiling temperatures in our kitchens. This means that it is also possible to cook pasta by keeping the water at 80 ° C, putting in just a little more because the water hydrates the dough a little more slowly ".

Are you really saving money? Assuming then that the result is good in terms of taste (and, we repeat, the experts are divided: chef Antonello Colonna, for example, told Repubblica that with this method there is a risk that the pasta takes on a rubbery and unpleasant texture; others cooks claim instead that the result is indistinguishable from that obtained with traditional cooking), do you really save money? And is it a considerable or negligible saving? Given that in times of crisis any savings, even if small, should not be underestimated, it must be said that the calculation is not simple. The Italian Pasta makers of Unione Italiana Food have tried to estimate it: according to their calculations, relating to passive cooking with the heat off and with the lid on after the first two minutes of traditional cooking, the savings in energy and carbon dioxide emissions can reach the 47% compared to the traditional method. An estimate that, spannometrically, seems to make sense, since the time it takes to bring the water to a boil is comparable to the average cooking time of the pasta. Furthermore, according to the association's estimates, this method is only adopted by one in 10 Italians, while the healthy habits of using less water would have taken hold (700 milliliters per 100 grams of pasta, as one in four would do) and always put the lid (nine out of ten would do it).

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