Pasta, my friends, is the national pride of our country, one of the biggest pleasures to be enjoyed, and one of those things around which – clichés or not – us Italians build our identity, at least in the kitchen. Now I have lost the habit, but in Italy I ate pasta around 4 times a week and I was never bored. We have so many different shapes and kinds of pasta and endless recipes – with meat, fish, vegetables, or simple sauces – that the risk of having too much pasta is almost zero!
When I speak to my friends here, they consider making pasta one of the easiest and fastest things ever, kind of “I don’ t have time for complicate cooking today, I’ll just make pasta”. While this can be a little bit true, I think there are some aspects that should be taken into account not to make mistakes during the preparation! And if you think Italians know all the secrets and they know exactly how to do it, you would be surprised to know that it’s not always the case!
To make it a little bit clear, here is a series of things to avoid if you want to cook the perfect pasta dish!
1 – COOKING PASTA BEFORE WATER IS BOILING
I know, maybe you are hungry, maybe you have to go back to work, but please, don’t be impatient! If you start cooking pasta while water is just at a simmer, the cooking won’t be uniform and regular and you will have some uncooked pieces of pasta that will make any pasta lover scream in despair.
2- NOT PUTTING ENOUGH WATER IN THE POT
You heard me, being in a rush is never good when making pasta, but to the same extent, not being generous with the amount of water can be a disaster. Please, fill in that pot! Pasta needs to be submerged by water. The perfect ratio is 100 gr – 3.5 oz pasta / 1 liter water.
3- NOT ADDING SALT BEFORE ADDING PASTA
Whether you use kosher salt or table salt, just remember that that you should use 15 gr (1 tbsp) salt per liter of water. There are a lot of debates whether you should add it when water is boiling or if you can already before, in my opinion this is not really important, as long as salt has the time to get melted in water and as well to give a flavour boost to pasta.
4- OVERCOOKING PASTA
Please, always be careful to the indications on the package. There is nothing more sad than mushy and sticky pasta, just the idea makes me want to cry! To be sure, start tasting pasta 2 or 3 minutes before what the package says, because sometimes indications as well are not precise. Sure thing, pasta “al dente”- tender but firm to the bite – is much better than overcooked pasta.
5- THROWING AWAY THE COOKING WATER WHEN DRAINING PASTA
This is a very common mistake and yet you should avoid it as much as you can. Just before draining pasta, save at least one cup of the cooking water. This is a magical trick that can do wonders when you have to combine pasta and sauce in a pan as last step before serving…which leads me to the next mistake!
6-ADDING YOUR SAUCE ON TOP OF THE PASTA
Mantecatura – a marvellous italian term that has no translation – indicates that last passage, that ritual that is necessary to almost every pasta dish. What I mean is that, after you have prepared a great ragu, or pesto, the best way to enjoy it with your pasta is to spend the last 2 minutes of preparation by stirring pasta together with your sauce in a pan, to amalgamate everything in a uniform way. Adding some of the cooking water might be necessary if you feel that the sauce is too thick or dense and does not “slip” on the pasta.
7- RINSING PASTA
I heard a lot of theories about this practice, but no one will be able to convince me that rinsing pasta has some utility. Stopping the cooking like this is just wrong and won’t make any good to the final quality of the result. A suggestion ? If you are making a pasta salad, after draining it, add some olive oil and then put it on a flat surface to cool. It will be much better!
8- ADDING OIL WHILE COOKING
This is just a useless practice. The only thing to do when cooking pasta is to give a stir from time to time to be sure that pasta won’t stick to the bottom of the pot, adding oil won’t be of any help during the cooking.
9- USING PASTA SHAPES RANDOMLY
When I explain this sometimes I am looked at very skeptically, but i find important to know that every pasta shape is preferentially used for different types of seasoning and sauces. Long-shaped pasta has to be used with oil-based seasonings and creamy and smooth sauces, because when you swirl your spaghetti around the fork, you have to be able to easily retain the sauce as well. The pasta format called “rigata” (furrowed) absorbs condiments very well, and porous and rough pasta-types like tagliatelle are good for meat sauces, which in turn are also suitable for short-shaped pasta.
10- PUTTING KETCHUP ON PASTA
I kept this as last because it’s the thing that makes me suffer most. I still remember the first time I saw somebody doing it and it gave me chills all over my body 😀 This is a real shock and shame for Italians, it’s like insulting someone’s grandmother, that bad. There are so many recipes and sauces and ways to eat pasta – even some butter and parmesan is better – that hurting pasta in this way is not necessary. Be merciful 😀