Pasta Inserts: Needed or Not?

by Elizabeth Skipper | October 16th, 2013 | Ask the Chef

pasta in potMy husband and I have a question that we’d like you to answer.  He’s certain that we need a pasta pot (with the second colander-like pot), and I think it just is something else to store.  Who’s right?

You think I’m going to answer whether you or your husband is right? No, ma’am, I’m not taking sides! What I will tell you is the pros and cons of a pasta insert and hope that makes it easier for the two of you to agree on whether or not you need one.

The answer is that it depends on what kind of cooking you do. If you make a lot of pasta, especially in large quantities, you very well might like to have one. Especially if you make filled pastas like ravioli or tortellini, which can come apart if roughly handled, a pasta insert drains them more gently – simply lift the insert and let the water pour out the bottom, leaving the pasta fairly stationary. On the other hand, very thin pasta like spaghettini will tend to slip through the holes (although that problem also crops up with a colander.)

If one of you lacks wrist or upper arm strength, it might be preferable to not have to lug a large heavy pot of hot water to the sink to drain it. If you want to parboil or pre-boil pasta, being able to simply lower the insert with the pasta back into boiling water to reheat is handy. That’s certainly what a lot of restaurants do; in fact, there are even quarter or half-size inserts available that make it possible to reheat different kinds of pasta in one very large pot. Have you ever been served a portion of rigatoni with a piece of macaroni or spaghetti in it, and wondered how it got there? That’s how.

Pasta inserts are handy for other things, too. If you make stock, using one makes it super easy to remove all the bones and large chunks of vegetables when it’s done, leaving only the final task of pouring the stock through a fine mesh strainer to remove any remaining floating bits and pieces.

Do you do a lot of canning? Blanching and shocking produce is a simple procedure with a pasta insert. When seconds count, being able to remove all the vegetables from the blanching water at once is an asset. Simply lift, drain, and pour the contents of the insert into the waiting cold water and you’re all ready for the next batch – no fishing around with a scoop trying to corral those last few green beans or what have you.

If you get one that clears the bottom of the larger pot it sits in by a couple of inches, you can use it to steam certain foods. Bring an inch of water to a boil, add the insert with the corn or lobster or steamers, and steam away. Beats putting in the lobsters by hand if you’re squeamish, and there’s no water to drain out of them when they’re done as there is with boiling.

I’ve done without a pasta insert throughout all my years of cooking, and managed just fine. Having one to use for stock would be nice; and perhaps if I’d bought a pot with an insert I’d be using it for that purpose if for no other. Lacking one hasn’t kept me from cooking anything I want, though. Think about whether your style of cooking and the size of your kitchen warrant one . . . I hope that helps you and your husband reach an agreement.

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