DIY Food

A Funny Little Trick to Make Leftover Pasta Creamy Again

Because dried out fridge-pasta is a travesty, and together, we can eradicate it.

September 23, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

This past New Year's Eve, I hosted a pasta party. It was exactly what it sounds like: me, cooking more noodle courses than my three guests could possibly eat in the hours we spent huddled around my kitchen table, and quite a bit of Parmesan.

As the evening progressed, my stock of reserved pasta water grew as murky and expansive as my guests' conversation (blame our local liquor store's sale on sparkling wine). Some amount of bucatini all'Amatriciana, rigatoni with fresh basil pesto, and aglio e olio e salsicccia later, I found myself with a full jar of the starchy stuff.

Pasta cooking water has long been touted for its abilities to emulsify, thicken, and facilitate binding between noodles and sauce. So when I make pasta of any sort, I prefer to remove the noodles from the pot with tongs or a spider, and reserve at least a few cups of the liquid to incorporate into the sauce as needed. (For something like pesto, this might mean tossing the rigatoni and sauce with a few tablespoons of it; for a dish like aglio e olio, the reserved water would actually serve as the basis for the sauce.)

But it wasn't until New Year's Day that a funny little trick came into play.

We woke on Jan. 1 with with enough leftovers to feed us for much of the year to come. And it became clear, quickly, that our first dinner of 2019 would be another pasta party. I tasked my little sister with grating more cheese, and I set about reheating the remains, each batch of noodles already tossed with sauce from the night prior. That's when I saw it: a jar of something questionable and turbid, cloudy and faintly tawny. Reserved pasta water! Somehow, my stockpile had made it into the fridge at the end of the night.

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Top Comment:
“hi there! i've been saving small jars of pasta water from when i make boxes of nicer dry pasta. how long do you keep your pasta water for? thanks!”
— niknakx

It turns out, pasta water works just as well to animate leftover noodles in sauce as it does to bring the two together in the first place. I added generous splashes to each saucepan of noodles and stirred, watching as dried out, near-ossified pieces of rigatoni with clumps of congealed cheese turned back into a creamy, pesto-y affair. The starchy liquid—plus a little extra salt—brought new life to aglio e olio, and roused sedentary bucatini all'Amatriciana to its earlier glory.

Which made our first pasta party of 2019 quite the success.

Go On, Make Double Batches

Have a go-to trick for reheating old pasta? Let us know in the comments.
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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.


FrugalCat January 31, 2022
When I was first starting out on my own, I worked in an Italian restaurant. One night, I saw one of the cooks take a jar of water from the pasta cooker. I was fascinated when he told me that he used it at home to reheat pastas and sauces. He offered me a jar, but at the time, I was sure I could never recreate that type of sorcery myself.
cakes342j August 2, 2021
Tired of leftover pasta being dry and the sauce pasty? add a generous amount of olive oil to the sauce when you are cooking the first time. When you reheat it the next day the sauce will taste fresh and not thick and pasty. I use garlic infused olive oil.
niknakx May 27, 2020
hi there! i've been saving small jars of pasta water from when i make boxes of nicer dry pasta. how long do you keep your pasta water for? thanks!
Karen C. May 28, 2020
Whoa. I would not really do that for long. If you freeze it maybe longer but I don't think that is probably very safe.
Lynda W. October 31, 2019
It's Carbonara with Peas. But searching their site I am not able to find a recipe with this photo.
KS October 31, 2019
I love the idea, but confess I'm a little scared about a forgotten, murky liquid aging in my fridge. Yikes. But I wonder if a bit of potato starch (not flour) in a water slurry would have a similar effect? I could make it fresh and control the thickness that way. And as a bonus, I'd get to use up some potato starch, which I now keep around because of Food52's Korean street pancakes.
Ella Q. October 31, 2019
Hi! I bet it'd work—keep me posted if you try it.
Karen C. October 31, 2019
I need the recipe for whatever that is with the peas in the cover photo.
KS October 31, 2019
Me, too.
Ella Q. October 31, 2019
It's one of my favorites! Here you go:
Karen C. November 1, 2019
Thank you!! That looks amazing! And no cream!