Cooking pasta is a very simple art form and if you follow these rules for the perfect pasta, you will have a very different experience of this classic from Italian cuisine.
Many pasta dishes are successful because they’re simple and cooked to perfection.
We’ll also do a similar “rules for cooking risotto” to give you the basic dish that you can then elaborate yourself.
Italian cooking was never meant to be complicated, but to get the pasta like you tasted it on your holiday in Italy, you have to apply some rules.
Choose the pasta on the basis of the sauce you want; spaghetti, fettuccine, tagliatelle and other types will sort of ‘grab’ hold of the sauce, while penne and other similar types are great for whole pieces of tomato or other vegetables.
Weigh the pasta to know how much to cook.
Get rid of those silly spaghetti measures that are totally inaccurate.
A basic rule of thumb is 100 grams of pasta for each person, though I normally do a bit less.
Choose the right saucepan or pot.
A high saucepan with lots of water gives the best result as pasta is not meant to be stirred when cooking.
The idea is to throw it in the pot, and let the boiling water turn it over on its own.
Don’t under-salt the water.
A good fistful of salt is what you want, not a sprinkling.
The salt gives the pasta its flavour and you’re better to over-do it than under-do it.
Pay attention to the cooking time on the packet.
You can always taste the pasta before serving, but the packet instructions often give a very good guide.
“Al dente” means a nice chewy texture, not something that will break apart or that can be squashed with the tongue.
Fresh pasta needs a very short cooking time, about 2-5 minutes.
DO NOT RINSE THE PASTA.
This goes for both before cooking and after draining.
When you drain your pasta, you need to give it a couple of shakes and that’s it.
If you rinse it, you wash away the flavour and starch.
Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce and stir through.
You can try flipping the pan to toss the pasta through the sauce if you’re competent, otherwise just stir through.
This integrates the pasta and the sauce and gives a lovely consistent texture.
The sauce is not a dressing, but an integral part of the dish.
On the subject of sauce: don’t exaggerate with a multitude of ingredients and flavourings.
Italian pasta sauces are often very simple and should function as a complement to the pasta itself.
For example, if you have a lovely ravioli filling, try the classic butter and sage sauce.
It means you can actually taste the filling.
Nothing can beat homemade tomato sauce.
Choose a great Italian wine to go with your dish.
Do some research – the best food and wine matching from Italy is often regional so a dish from Calabria or Sicily should go with a wine from that region, too.