While pasta has most definitely become a much-loved dish word-wide, it’s one of those Italian recipes that are undeniably best experienced in its home country, preferably with a glass of Barolo wine and a pizza on the side. Prego!
Of course, not all of us can afford to jet away to Rome for the weekend (nor would we probably want to with kids in tow!), but it’s still entirely possible to enjoy great pasta if you put your mind to it. Admittedly, you’ll probably still struggle to achieve the heights of Italian chefs who have been cooking pasta since they were in their cribs, or near enough, but taking tips from the best can still see you achieving a pretty decent alternative.
Here, we look at just a few of the Italian chef-led tips that could help you to get there.
1) Always Boil Your Water First
Most Italian chefs will tell you that your pasta should always be in contact with your water for the shortest possible time. As well as avoiding clumps, this guarantees the best results and is reliant on remembering to boil your water in an empty pan first. Pre-boiled water is especially important as it gelatinizes the starches within your pasta to make them more digestible. To further these tenfold benefits, it’s also important to note that Italian chefs will typically only add salt once their water is boiling, as this ensures a faster, more efficient boil. Make sure, too, that you leave that water on a high boil throughout the cooking process so that you can avoid mushy, overcooked pasta in place of an al dente dish that’s finished before you can say ‘Amore!’
2) Skip the Oil
Given that olive oil is such a significant part of the Mediterranean diet, it’s not unusual for us to automatically add olive oil to our pasta water when we’re trying to create an ‘authentic’ vibe. In reality, though, Italian chefs highly advise against this mistake, claiming that as well as preventing the starches in your pasta from dispersing, clumps of separated oil will inevitably prevent your pasta sauce from coating your finished dish. Obviously, olive oil has a strong grounding in many authentic, fantastic pasta dishes, but only ever when incorporated into sauces or drizzled on top of a pasta dish that’s already cooked.
3) Choose Your Shapes According to Your Sauce
While many of us will choose a pasta like spaghetti to accompany a bolognese sauce following Italian tradition, we often make the mistake of failing to think how our pasta shapes of choice will correlate with our sauces outside of this remit. This alone can significantly hinder the taste and functionality of any pasta dish and is why Italian chefs also advise that you choose your sauces and pasta pairings carefully. This is especially essential for chunky meat or vegetable sauces that are best with shapes like penne or conchiglie that provide nooks in which those chunks can hide. By comparison, a smoother option like this creamy homemade alfredo sauce is certain to work better with a pasta like linguine or fettuccine that enables the best possible pasta-sauce ratio. By considering these essentials in advance, you can elevate the taste, and general eating ease, of any pasta dish imaginable. Just like the Italians do!
4) Take It Off the Heat When It’s Al Dente
Perhaps the biggest pasta eating sin outside of Italian kitchens is that of overcooking. This comes, in large part, from our leanings towards dry types of pasta that are rarely used across Italy. Instead, Italian kitchens are far more likely to use fresh egg pasta that should be warmed through but still firm rather than cooked until entirely soft. Specifically, Italian chefs recommend testing whether your pasta is al dente (or ‘to-the-tooth’ as the phrase directly translates), by cooking for as little as 1-2 minutes and then looking for a paler section in the middle of the pasta which is known in Italian as ‘punto verde’ (green point) and is a sure sign that it’s cooked just right. Even if you think that your pasta’s still too hard at this point, remember that it keeps on cooking outside of the water, and should preferably be cooked for another minute or so in your sauce, to mean that it’ll be just right by the time it gets to your plate.
If you can’t go to Rome, bring Rome to you by implementing these fresh-out-of-Italy tips for pasta dishes you’ll want to dive right into.