When Cooking Baked Pasta, Avoiding Boiling Altogether

One of the best things about pasta is how versatile it is — not only are there seemingly endless types of pasta, but there are numerous ways you can prepare it. One notable route you can take is baking it, which can lead to everything from a classic baked ziti to the baked feta pasta recipe popularized by TikTok. If you're a fan of baked pasta, then you know that the first step is generally to boil the pasta, just as you would if you were making a more traditional pasta dish, before assembling it and baking until hot, gooey, and browned on the top. However, there is a way to avoid boiling altogether when you're creating a baked pasta dish.

J. Kenji López-Alt, the author of "The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science," informed pasta makers in an article for Serious Eats (where he serves as a culinary consultant) that it's totally doable to skip the boiling step when making baked pasta. Instead, López-Alt recommends soaking the uncooked pasta in salted hot water for about 30 minutes. This can be done while you're preparing the other ingredients of the dish — just don't forget to stir the pasta occasionally.

The pasta just needs to absorb water to cook — but it doesn't have to be through boiling

In the Serious Eats piece, J. Kenji López-Alt explains the reasoning behind cooking your pasta before baking it: Pasta needs to absorb about 80% of its own weight in water in order to cook through. Thus, putting uncooked pasta directly into the oven for a baked pasta recipe will soak up all of the sauce — since it's been denied the chance to soak up water — leaving you with a very dry pasta dish. López-Alt notes that the soaking method was discovered by H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa for the blog Ideas in Food, which completely changes the game for chefs making baked pasta dishes.

López-Alt tried out the soaking method himself, noting that it's not always practical for traditional pasta dishes, but comes in handy for baked ones. "Since the pasta's already hydrated, it won't rob your sauce of liquid, and the heat from the oven is more than enough to cook it while the casserole bakes," he wrote. "If you taste them side by side, you can't tell the difference between precooked pasta and simply soaked pasta."

Despite boiling being a faster process than soaking, you'll save time overall by being able to multitask while your pasta soaks. Make a salad, make a sauce, set the table, or simply chill out. Plus, who doesn't love the idea of getting out of washing an annoying pasta pot? It's a win-win.