If you like to cook, you may already be familiar with Harold McGee, tireless kitchen tinkerer, experimenter, and debunker of myths. Recently McGee set out to find whether it’s really necessary to cook a pound of pasta in six quarts of water.
This may seem like a minor matter (and it is!), but Americans do boil a billion pounds or so of pasta every year. By McGee’s own math, cutting the heating time for those big pots of water could save the equivalent of half a million barrels of oil per year.
McGee found that not only can you boil pasta in significantly smaller amounts of water, you can actually start the noodles in the pot while the water is cold:"It’s possible to butta la pasta in 1 1/2 or 2 quarts of boiling water without having the noodles stick. Short shapes just require occasional stirring. Long strands and ribbons need a quick wetting with cold water just before they go into the pot, then frequent stirring for a minute or two."
Honestly, who knew? I'm going to try this tonight.
UPDATE: So, I tried it last night and a pound of fettuccine cooked just fine in about 2 quarts of water. It was fine even though I forgot to wet them with cold water first. I forgot to put them in the pot while the water was cold...next time I'm trying that trick.