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U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, flanked by Italy's first lady Agnese Landini, during her visit at the 2015 Expo in Milan, Italy. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, left, flanked by Italy’s first lady Agnese Landini, during her visit at the 2015 Expo in Milan, Italy. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Michelle Obama visited the World EXPO last month and she wanted to show a sustainable way to cook pasta – with a pressure cooker!

Expo 2015 is a Universal Exposition held every five years in a different country, it focuses on topics of world interest.  It attracts tourists and business world-wide – it’s the Olympics of commerce. This year’s theme is “Feeding the planet, energy for life”.  Countries in attendance are sharing sustainable foods, sustainable agriculture, energy-efficient and futuristic cooking methods. This 6-month event is open until October 31 in Milano,  Italy.

Word about the pressure cooker’s ability to save energy, water and time is getting out – and pressure cookers have a new darling to extol their virtues.

Michelle Obama held a cooking demonstration at the U.S. Pavilion. Her goal was to show how to make a meal that is both friendly to the figure and environment. She made her faves, a one-pot pasta with spinach and tomatoes, with which she is pictured on the cover of Cooking Light magazine  – La Repubblica, an Italian News Daily, reports.

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Michelle Obama on the cover of Cooking Light Magazine with her spinach and tomato pasta dish (click image to see recipe).

We don’t have too many details on how she adapted this recipe for the pressure cooker but it’s likely using the same ingredients as the recipe she published in Cooking Light Magazine.  Maybe she had to snap the spaghetti in half, to get it to fit into the cooker, and we think she covered the noodles with stock and tomatoes and pressure cooked the whole meal for just a few minutes.

Pressure Cooker Pasta History

Pasta in the pressure cooker is not a new idea – it has been done for years one way or another both in Italy, and beyond. An Italian pressure cooker recipe book already in it’s 5th edition by 1967, “Cucinare Bene.. In Meta’ Tempo” (Cooking Well… In Half The Time), features pressure cooker Rigatoni al Ragu.  The pressure cooker manual library, includes a vintage American  recipe booklet, from 1961,  with a technique for pressure cooking “Macaroni, Spaghetti, Noodles.”

In America, Lorna Sass, popularized this method in her iconic  tome, Pressure Perfect.  Anyone who has pressure cooked, has added their own bit of knowledge to perfect pressure cooked pasta, including this website.

We published the always al dente pressure cooker pasta technique – the most comprehensive tutorial on pressure cooking pasta. Our technique and recipes emphasize classic sauces, short cut pasta, measuring the cooking liquid by volume (so the quantity can be easily adjusted) and low pressure (to easily calculate the cooking time) for perfectly cooked pasta. Here are a few..

Pasta with Tuna & Capers Spinach Pesto Pasta Ragu Pasta Casserole
more pressure cooker pasta recipes >

Why Pressure Cook Pasta?

Infographic shows pressure cooker benefits
Infographic shows pressure cooker benefits

Since pasta cooks so quickly already, you might be wondering what kinds of savings you might get.

It saves water. Although it’s true that once the water is boiling and sauce is ready pasta takes no time.  Pressure cooking pasta completely eliminates the step of bringing a big pot of water up to a boil (which can take 20 minutes or more).  Instead, just-enough water to rehydrate the pasta is added using only about 2 cups of water for a pound of pasta – as opposed to using 1 gallon (16 cups) of water that are then eventually poured down the drain.  That’s a savings 0f 85%.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans eat an average of 19.4 pounds of pasta each year (it’s 57.3 pounds for Italians).  If every one of those pounds of pasta were cooked in the pressure cooker, in 1 year America could save over 5 billion gallons of water per year. That’s enough water to supply a medium-sized city, like San Francisco, for 125 days. And that’s not even counting that you won’t need to wash a second pot make or heat-up or make the sauce.

It saves energy. Pressure cooking takes less time because it’s a wet cooking method (boiling is faster than baking) and the sealed environment allows it to achieve much higher cooking temperatures than cooking without pressure (hotter food needs less time to cook) using a fraction of the energy used for regular cooking (about 30% of the energy). The energy savings achieved by pressure cooking are comparable to those achieved by switching from incandescent to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs 70 to 90% energy savings!)

It tastes really good. When many first hear bout pasta in the pressure cooker, they are undoubtedly skeptic.  However they quickly change their mind once they taste the pasta.  The flavor is amazingly intense because the pasta is cooking in the sauce and absorbs a large portion of it, not just water.  So the flavors, vitamins and minerals in the sauce are actually absorbed into the pasta.

It’s great for intensifying the flavor, or to get vitamins into kids who would usually pick-out spinach leaves from their dinner.

More info:

 

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7 Comments

  1. Interesting article. Pasta in the pressure cooker is one of my few failures.
    Perhaps because it is cooked in the sauce. I tried one of the hip recipes twice, and have tried slow cooker and Ninja cooker recipes in the past cooked in the sauce. Didn’t care for them either.

    Homemade tomato sauce can’t be beat though.

    Are the figures for pasta consumption dry or cooked, with or without sauce? I go through a 454 bag of spaghetti most months and then there is lasagna and cannelloni as well as other noodles. At least 10 lbs. of dry pasta a year. Then there are the rice noodle, egg noodles, dumplings etc., as well as a certain delectable frozen dish or two that I have found to be high quality and occasionally fresh pasta bought at the store. I used to make my own noodles but lost my pasta machine in a move and found I am just as happy with dry noodles) and while I like it a lot, I don’t consider myself a big pasta eater.
    I know 10 year olds who eat more.

  2. Nice article. But one aside leaves me puzzled.
    “Pressure cooking takes less time because it is a wet cooking method (boiling is faster than baking)”
    True. But not in context. This is an article comparing cooking pasta in a big pot of boiling water vs. in a pressure cooker using the absorption method. Both are wet methods. With the exception of a few things like lasagna, pasta is not baked. And even then, the pasta itself is usually precooked in boiling water (sometimes the manufacturer does it for you. )

    And you keep telling us that breaking spaghetti in half is a big no no. Shouldn’t you be taking a big stick to Michelle? ;)

    1. Since it’s only a guess on what she did I cannot admonish her – she’s getting the message out about pressure cooking and that is what’s important. Now, if she could only pressure cook in the US!!!

      Ciao,

      L

      1. Aww gee Laura,
        There goes my mental image of you brandishing a rolling pin chasing Michele. And being chased in turn by secret service guys in aprons. :D

        I must admit I have mostly converted to only cooking short pasta. That way I don’t have to invoke the wrath of those Roman gods.

        @Helen, I don’t understand why you are having such problems with pasta in the PC. Maybe it is the IP.
        Or perhaps it is just that our tastes are different as I know they are.

  3. Maybe you should email her clearly captioned pressure cooking complimenting her on championing pressure cooking as a convenient and environmental option and tell her you have featured her on your website.

    I bet there are TV Channels who would pay big bucks to get the two of you on camera:)

    I would think she could go on TV about pretty well anything so she must be more than a bit interested in the topic.

  4. The only time I don’t break my spaghetti in half, or even in thirds (heaven forfend) is for presentation reasons. For guests who I know like to twirl it on a spoon and wipe it of their chins I use the giant pasta pot. Or if I am making pasta nests.

    Other than that I can detect no difference in taste or texture.

    Cooking it in the sauce, as I said earlier, does not seem to work for me. Instead of Al dente, it seems almost gummy. And I am not a picky pasta eater. I was recently served Alphagetti at a friend’s house and could honestly say it was good. Better than my pressure cooker pasta fiascos.

  5. @Greg
    I don’t think it is the IP. I have greater than 90% success when following recipes from here and other places in it. And any recipe I have made in the stovetop PC seems to come out identically in the IP.

    Could be our tastes but neither you or Laura seem like you would be fond of gummy pasta. So it is something I am doing wrong I am pretty sure. I am stubborn so I will probably give it another try one of these days. Or not, as I can always make my pasta separately with little effort.

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