Why You Should Be Cooking Pasta in an Instant Pot
Because a watched pot never boils!
I know that cooking pasta isn't a hard task. It’s as easy as boiling water, right? Well, how often do you find yourself hovered around your stovetop willing that pot of steaming water to start bubbling? Or how many times have you secretly added those noodles to the not-yet boiled water because you just can’t wait anymore?! Let's face it — sometimes a one-pot pasta is just easier, and it turns out it can be even faster if you use an Instant Pot.
When I set out to recreate the ease of a one-pot dish with this back-to-school-friendly Instant Pot Cheesy Pasta and Chicken from Food Network Magazine's September issue, I fully expected it to be a simple set-it-and-walk-away task (basically my favorite thing about using an IP). What I wasn't planning on, was how much I would love pressure-cooked pasta. Here's why you should turn off your stovetop and start up your Instant Pot for pasta night.
Cooking Noodles in Less Water Leads to Lots of Flavor
You may have heard that in order to boil pasta properly, you need water that's as salty as the ocean. Sometimes, though, noodles can still come out tasting super bland before being tossed with a sauce, because the heavily salted water is only coating the outside of the noodle.
Cooking pasta in the Instant Pot, on the other hand, is all about absorption: Since your pasta is being cooked in a much smaller amount of liquid, it absorbs more of that flavor of the liquid. I used part chicken broth and part water in this cheesy dish and the end result was savory noodles that were seasoned all the way through.
It's a Healthier Way to Get a Creamier Sauce
Reserving starchy pasta water before draining your noodles is a not-so-secret-technique that chefs and restaurants love to use to transform watery sauces into beautfully thicken ones. Most times, though, large amounts of oil or butter are also involved. When cooking in the Instant Pot, however, all the starch that usually gets pulled out of the pasta stays in the pot, giving you a rich base to form any sauce, minus all those extra calories. All you need to do is add a small amount of cream or cheese to the heavily starchy water and voila! — a super creamy sauce with a fraction of the fat.
It's So Much Faster Than Boiling Water
When it comes to the Instant Pot, one thing always comes to mind: less cooking time. Cooking pasta in the IP is a time saver in two ways: 1) You can build your sauce in the pot and then cook the noodles right in it, eliminating the need to boil noodles and make sauce separately. 2) You actually need to undercook your noodles, which means a faster cook time.
If you're scratching your head at the idea of undercooked noodles, let me explain: It’s very easy to overcook pasta in the Instant Pot because the pot is so well insulated and hot that the noodles continue to cook even after the lid is removed. That's why it's best to actually cook the noodles until they are only about halfway done. By the time the last few ingredients have been added and stirred all together, the pasta still has a nice al-dente bite to it and isn't overcooked.
For the Cheesy Pasta and Chicken recipe above that means cooking your pasta for a cool 3 minutes on the "High Pressure" setting. It's just enough time for you to set the table and toss a quick salad.
A Few Helpful Tips
- Longer noodles can stick and clump together, so you might want to break spaghetti in half or add a touch of oil to prevent clumping.
- Shorter pasta shapes are easier to work with.
- When releasing the pressure, some starchy water will spurt out with the steam. To counter this, use a kitchen towel and pulse the release valve a few times to remove any foam that has built up inside the pot before fully releasing.
- You can also flip the valve back to the sealing position for a few seconds to let the foaming calm before proceeding.
The Instant Pot pasta-bilities are truly endless! Now that I’ve tasted the benefits firsthand myself, I'm planning on testing out even more dishes and you should, too! Something tells me this 5-Ingredient Mac and Cheese is another good place to start!