11th August 2016
Italy has given the world some great culinary gifts, such as pizza, balsamic vinegar and tiramisu. It’s also managed to provide university students with an entire diet consisting of value bags of penne pasta, bargain buckets of tomato sauce and garlic bread (at least that was the case for me).
At the same time, the Italians are fiercely passionate about their food and rightly so. They have access to the most amazingly bright and fresh local ingredients, which have produced some of the greatest, yet most elegantly simple dishes the world has seen.
This bold Mediterranean passion brings lots of details which can make the difference between an Italian dish and a great Italian dish. Knowing your way around these facts and much-disputed methods can transform your next pasta dish from Bravo! to Magnifico!
So, if you’ve ever ordered spaghetti alle vongole, smothered it in Parmigiano, dived in with your knife and fork and then wondered why the waiter is looking at you like you’ve insulted mamma, then this list is for you.
1. Pasta is traditionally the second of three savoury courses in a full Italian meal, known as the Primi, served between the ‘Antipasti’ (starter) and the ‘Secondi’ (meat/fish course).
2. Putting cheese on a fish pasta dish is considered wrong and borderline heresy in Italy, so it should be avoided at all costs.
3. Traditional carbonara does not have cream in it. All you need is pancetta, olive oil, eggs, Parmigiano, pasta, salt, black pepper and a ladle or two of pasta water.
4. Pasta should be cooked in a very large pan with lots of water, to ensure it has plenty of space to move around.
5. The golden ratio of cooking water to pasta is 1000ml of water per 100g dried pasta.
6. A normal portion of pasta is 75-100g (uncooked weight) of dried pasta per person.
7. Your pasta water should be well salted, between 1.5 teaspoons of salt per litre of water, up to seawater levels of saltiness.
8. Pasta water is an important part of making pasta sauces in Italy. It’s like a combination of pasta stock and a thickening agent, due to the salt and starch in it.
9. You can buy pasta pans which have a built-in sieve so that you don’t have to pour the precious pasta water down the drain when straining the pasta.
10. Pasta should be cooked ‘al dente’, which means ‘to the tooth’, suggesting it should retain a hint of resistance when eaten, rather than being a squidgy mush.
11. You should add your pasta to the sauce, not the sauce to the pasta.
12. Pasta continues to cook after it’s been removed from the boiling water, especially so if you add it to a sauce, so aim for a minute under ‘al dente’ if you are adding it to a hot sauce.
13. Throwing pasta against a wall to see if it sticks is NOT a good indicator of whether the pasta is cooked properly. However, it is a great excuse to throw food around, so carry on.
14. Cutting your spaghetti when eating it is considered even worse than putting cheese on your fish. Twirl it around a fork and you can use a spoon to help, if you’re five years old.
15. Long, thin pasta shapes like spaghetti or linguine go with smooth sauces. Short, shaped pasta, like fusilli or penne, go with more chunky sauces. Small pasta shapes are for soups.
16. Who makes the best pasta? Mamma, of course!
Now you know everything you need to know about the wonderful world of pasta. Now eat it. Eat it all.
Gavin is the mega talented founder of food blog Le Petit Oeuf which he created to share his opinions, recipes and blogging knowledge around the world of food. Be sure to follow him on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with his work.
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