When you cook pasta, the water it is cooked in becomes starchy (and usually a bit salty if you salt the water). In a commercial kitchen you’ll cook pasta in the same water over and over during service – meaning that your water will become super starchy. At home the effect is a lot milder but while camping the effect is somewhere in between – because you’re likely to use a whole lot less water that usual to cook your pasta (hence why there are so many sad clumpy pastas served at campsites).

Anyway, this water (“l’acqua di cottura” if you want to impress someone) can be retained and added to your pasta sauce. Basically it will make the sauce adhere better to the pasta (because of the starch). Where you have a ‘dry’ sauce it makes your actual pasta a lot more slippery – so you can actually swallow it without adding buckets of extra oil or cheese. It also makes your end product look a lot glossier (well, I think so anyway). Obviously this later use is of great utility to the camp cook – you don’t have to add that damn can of tomatoes or more of your precious oil to your pasta – you can just add back the pasta water.

I recommend the following system to avoid a pasta and sauce juggling nightmare (which can happen camping where you don’t have extra bowls and colanders on hand to make life easier:

Cook your pasta in a pot with water and meanwhile cook your sauce in a pan/pot. If you only have one burner chuck your pasta in boiling water and put the lid on, take the pot off the burner while you cook your sauce (you might need to juggle the pans a bit to keep the pasta water suitably hot). Once everything is cooked to your satisfaction use a fork and a bit of tipping to plop your pasta into your sauce. Stir things around and see if it is moist enough (you will no doubt have added a bit of the pasta water in the transfer process). If not, now is the time to add a bit more of the water.

Done, aren’t you clever?