Since the starchy thickening component of pasta water is where the value lies, there’s an easy substitute if you inadvertently fail to save the water. It also applies if you’re using gluten-free or whole wheat pastas, which don’t contain much starch, according to Milk Street. Just reach into your cabinet for some cornstarch. Mix a quarter teaspoon of cornstarch with the same amount of kosher salt and 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil to make the starch gel to the desired consistency.
Martha Stewart recommends a pasta-making process that goes something like this: Create your base with olive oil or butter and your choice of sautéed onions, garlic, meats, and vegetables. Then, add al dente pasta and a cup of pasta water (or the cornstarch substitute). You’ll see a creamy, succulent, emulsified sauce develop before your very eyes, infused with all the nuanced flavors in your skillet. Sauces that are thick by nature, such as marinara or Bolognese, rarely need pasta water. But you can still add a small amount, in place of oil, if those sauces are too stodgy.
A few more water-related pasta tips can help you get it just right. Barilla says to avoid adding oil to the water when cooking pasta as it leads to slippery noodles. Smithsonian adds that its best not to rinse cooked pasta, because the surface starch adds flavor while helping the sauce and pasta components marry well for the grand finale.