How to Season Your Cooking Water

When it comes to boiling pasta, a seasoned pot of water can make all the difference.

We’re going to show you how you can achieve great taste using the one seasoning cooks couldn’t do without: Salt. This content was created in partnership with Food52.

It’s safe to assume that we all know how to boil water. But an often overlooked — and essential — part of preparing any meal is seasoning your cooking water properly. Making sure that the water is salted means better, brighter-tasting pasta, vegetables and beans. It’s an easy but critical step in perfecting any recipe, whether a simple weeknight meal or a dinner party for 10.

Let’s start with pasta. It’s easy to think that salting pasta water isn’t a critical step, especially when said pasta is set to be covered in rich a Bolognese sauce or tossed in pesto. To the contrary, not salting your pasta water will leave your dish with much to be desired in terms of seasoning.

The rule of thumb is this: For every pound of pasta, use no less than 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher or fine sea salt, and up to 3 tablespoons if the sauce is mild. If you’re using coarse sea salt, start with the minimum amount, as it takes less to flavor the water. The best way to test if the water is seasoned enough is to taste it — does it taste like the sea? Good. You’re all set. Add the salt when the water comes to a boil, and only add the pasta when it returns to a boil.

When it comes to blanching vegetables, the same general rules apply. Boiling them in salted water is important for even seasoning and overall flavor. First, fill a large pot with water, leaving enough space for adding your vegetables. Wait to add the salt until after the water comes to a boil, as you would when cooking pasta, to ensure that it dissolves completely. Once again, your water should taste like the sea — that means adding about a ¼ cup of kosher or fine sea salt per gallon of cooking water. (Unless you’re blanching them for a saltier preparation — think something with soy. In this case it’s fine to scale back.)

Lastly, it’s important to show your beans some seasoning love, too. When soaking dried beans, salt plays a critical role in preventing magnesium and calcium from binding to and hardening the beans’ cell walls. There are two ways to salt your soaking water: Add a teaspoon of salt to the soaking water for each pound of beans, using the same water to cook them in, or brine the beans by adding 3 tablespoons of salt for each gallon of water. For the latter, be sure to rinse your beans and change the water before cooking them.

If you aren’t soaking your beans, simply add kosher or fine sea salt to the pot along with everything else. A teaspoon or two per pound of beans will do here, as too much salt will toughen the skins.

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Bucatini with Winter Greens Pesto

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Ingredients

For the pesto:

1 bunch kale

½ cup toasted walnuts

4 fat garlic cloves

1/2 cup Parmesan  

Zest of 1 lemon

1 bunch parsley

1 bunch arugula

1 cup olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Lemon juice, to taste

For the pasta:

1 pound bucatini

Parmesan

Olive oil

Salt, if needed

Instructions

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, and blanch the kale for 2 minutes. Shock it in an ice bath. Once cool, squeeze water from the blanched greens and set aside.

Place toasted nuts and garlic in a food processor, and blitz until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan and zest and pulse to combine. Add back the blanched kale, along with the leaves from 1 bunch of parsley and the arugula. Process until finely chopped. Slowly stream in the olive oil, starting with a 1/2 cup and adding more until it reaches your desired consistency (you may not need it all). Taste, and season with salt and lemon juice as needed.

If not using immediately, store in the fridge for up to a few days, or the freezer for a few months.

Place 1 cup of the pesto in the bottom of a large serving bowl. Cook bucatini in a big pot of salted water until al dente, drain quickly, and while it still retains some of its water, transfer it to the serving bowl with the pesto. Toss and taste — you may want to add a bit more pesto. Finish it with a big drizzle of nice olive oil, additional wisps of Parmesan, and a sprinkle of salt if needed.

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