Sunday, July 16, 2006

Not Really Impressed By Pasta Express

The other day, I picked up a Pasta Express cannister at the local Linens 'N'Things. At $14 CDN, it seems like a reasonable price (and not all that much wasted if the product turned out to be a burn.)

Why did I buy this? Mainly because I spotted a virtue that those informercials don't seem to harp about. Pasta Express is actually a bit of a misnomer; it's not so much a time saver as it is an energy saver. It takes less energy to boil water in an electric kettle than it does on the stove, and that sort of thing's important if you eat pasta as often as I do.

So, does it work?

Answer: sort of. The cannister cooks pasta by keeping the water hot, letting that soak into the food item to be cooked. It's not a true vacuum bottle because heat still radiates from the container (which is why they provide an insulation sleeve), but enough of the heat is retained so that the dried pasta will go soft.

The main trouble with Pasta Express is that while water stays hot, it doesn't circulate around the food item as boiling water would. This is important because the circulating water rinses out some of the surface starches in the pasta, which reduces the stickiness. Since circulation doesn't happen in the Pasta Express, you can potentially wind up with a sticky mess, particularly with short pasta like macaroni.

There are two ways to get round this. The first is to stir the pasta with either a long chopstick or a long spoon for maybe 10 seconds before clamping the lid. The second is to add some oil to the pasta before adding water. While those two methods can reduce the stickiness, it still won't be the same as a steady boil.

The other concern with Pasta Express is that, while water will stay hot during the cooking process, the temperature will still decline, even though it's at a very slow rate. This means you have to remember to add a couple of minutes cooking time, compared with the steady boil.

So is it a waste of money? I'd say not, so long as you know what you're going to use it for. I do see this as a good way of cooking long vegetables like asparagus, so it won't go into the Salvation Army bin just yet.