Paul Howard Articles, Blog, Climate Emergency, Italy, Sustainability

Passive Cooking by Barilla


Passive cooking saves energy, CO2 and money.

Passive cooking isn’t sitting and watching TV while someone else cooks dinner for you. No matter how much you might want it to be. Instead, it’s a thoughtful response to the Energy Crisis, subsequently developed as an ad campaign by pasta makers Barilla and then picked up by the press and media*. Sure, Barilla is promoting its pasta brand, but passive cooking saves energy and reduces carbon emissions. Oh, and it can save you some money too.

Inspired by this, the past month has seen home testing. The result? It works, it’s easy, and you don’t need to buy any new gadgets. But, of course, any brand of dried pasta is fine.

Passive Cooking

Passive cooking is a technique that has been around since the mid-19th century. But we must remember it now after years of plentiful cheap energy and climate change. Simply put, it’s an alternative method of cooking dried pasta that saves energy and reduces CO2 emissions by up to 80%. Of course, this estimate is based on a cooking time of 10 minutes using a typical electric or gas stove – so nothing special or out of the ordinary.

The usual way to cook pasta is to bring a pan of water to a rolling boil, then add the pasta and cook it, keeping the stove on to maintain the rolling boil, for around another 10 minutes, the exact time according to the packet and dependent on the shape of the pasta.

Passive cooking still brings the water to a rolling boil and adds the pasta. But now you turn the stove off, put a lid on the pot and wait for the pasta to cook in hot water. The time this takes is, remarkably, only fractionally longer (by a minute or two) than keeping the pot boiling throughout the cooking process.

Dried pasta cooks at 80°C and doesn’t need 100°C. Hence, your pasta will still be cooked just as you like; it’s safe and tastes the same. Of course, rival pasta brand Garofalo doesn’t entirely agree on this taste-wise, but their pasta was just as good to me. In any case, if this technique is good enough for Italian Chef Gennaro Contaldo, then it’s good enough.

Turn off and wait, that’s it?



Pasta manufacturers Barilla have studied Passive Cooking in some detail. They say that about 400 million pasta portions are served daily worldwide. Doubtless, there’s a significant proportion served in Italy, but pasta is on the menu a couple of times per week here at Chez Alchemy.

So imagine the potential if this technique were widely adopted. First, the aggregate of everyone doing it will usually be during the evening peak period. This could cut power station loads and save switching on a reserve coal or gas station. Think I’m joking? Ever seen the spike in energy demand down to boiling kettles after watching TV? In the UK, three big moments were England losing to Germany in the World Cup semi-final at Italia 90, a Royal Wedding in 2011, and episodes of Eastenders.** So individuals can make a difference!

Consequently, there’s a significant potential saving in aggregate COemissions. And finally, you get to save some money too – and while that might only be pennies each time, it adds up.

Please give it a go

Please give it a go and see if it works for you. Barilla has produced a pasta timing guide available here, but as a rule of thumb, start the timing as usual from when you turn the pot off and add a minute. Please don’t try this with fresh pasta; this is for dried pasta (durum and wholewheat) only. Now it’s got me thinking about what other foods might be appropriate for passive cooking. So far, I’ve discovered that eggs, rhubarb and chickpeas have their advocates. Some foods would be unsafe, but pasta isn’t.



*I shouldn’t need to say this here, but I have no relationship with Barilla, financial or otherwise. This simple win-win idea inspired me to post this article and use their picture. That’s all.

** Source: Drax power station. Twenty-six million people watched the semi-final of Italia 90. Afterwards, the electricity surge was 2,800 MegaWatts, equivalent to 1.12 million kettles, or 4.3 Drax-sized power stations. A Royal Wedding had 24 million viewers, with a 1,600 MW surge (2.5 Drax stations). Eastenders’ average post-programme surge is 400 MW with a record high of 2,290 MW – and is shown multiple times per week!

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