When in Rome, do as the Italians do.
That’s how the saying goes and I wholeheartedly agree! After living in Italy for over 2 years, there’s a few tips that I’ve picked up from my Italian friends that will help your cooking no end. Italians are very fussy when it comes to food and how to prepare it and rightly so, because they do it incredibly well. One thing I’ve learnt while I’ve been here is…
DO NOT MESS WITH THE RECIPE!
The recipe is how it is for a reason, because it’s bloody tasty and it needs to stay that way!! Any nonna will tell you the same and nonnas know their shit. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t hear a random person on the street talking on the phone to their mother or grandmother about how to make a particular dish, this is ancient knowledge that’s been passed down for generations. Seriously… forget Jamie Oliver and his duck lasagna (which doesn’t exist) and the way he drowns everything in olive oil, which, contrary to popular belief, Italians DON’T do. Our Jamie may be a great chef but he knows nothing compared to the average Italian nonna, if you handed duck lasagna to a nonna she’d slap you in the face with a wooden spoon and tell to vaffanculo.
So below is a collection of cooking tips that I’ve picked up from Italians, both nonnas and amici alike.
So first thing’s first…. THE PASTA.
Now if there’s one thing Italians can agree on it’s that British people have absolutely no idea how to cook pasta…. and they’d be right. We have our own incredibly British way of cooking pasta as we do with all other food which tends to involve boiling the living shit out of it until it’s molecular structure disintegrates and it becomes a mass of tasteless goop… much like the monstrosity below….
So to avoid said monstrosity, here are some Dos and Don’ts for pasta:
- DON’T cook pasta for more than 10 minutes
- DON’T let the water boil away to nothing
- DON’T boil the pasta for the same amount of time that it says on the packet
- DON’T drain all of the water from the pasta
- DO salt the water
- DO boil the pasta for 1/2 minutes less than what it says on the packet
- DO conserve a cup of pasta water after draining
- DO try the pasta before you drain – make sure it’s al dente
If you follow these tips, you can’t go wrong with pasta 🙂
Some of the Dos and Don’ts may seem a bit strange, like not keeping to the instructions on the packet. Surely the instructions are there for a reason right? WRONG!
The instructions are there to fool the innocent foreigner into thinking that they know how to make delicious pasta so that the Italians can keep all of the juicy pasta deliciousness to themselves. In reality, the pasta will continue to cook after you’ve drained it and once you’ve added it to your sauce…. which brings me to another British food faux pas or as the Italians so elegantly put it una figura di merda. The faux pas being, to drain you pasta onto a plate and slop whatever sauce you’ve hastily made on top, like so….
Don’t be fooled people, although it may look yummy it is wrong on so many levels:
- because spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t exist (not in Italy anyway)
- because you don’t put bloody cheddar cheese on pasta
- because the sauce and the pasta should never be separate
I know, I know, I’m droning on about things that don’t really seem all that important but when you cook Italian style you have to do as the Italians do. When in Rome people!!!
I remember the first time I cooked pasta in Italy for my incredibly Italian housemate, I was so proud of my creation and ready to WOW him with a taste sensation. What I wasn’t expecting was the horrified shriek that left his mouth followed by a string of delightful obscenities that I don’t care to mention. After he’d calmed down (and phoned his mother to tell her of the poison I’d tried to feed him) he explained that “la pasta e il sugo si sposano” – the pasta and the sauce need to marry one another. So from that day I’ve ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS brought the pasta to the sauce and I’d encourage other foodies to do the same.
Now one last thing before I stuff my face with pasta… it’s vital, life saving information…
This may look like just an ordinary murky cup of dish water but really it’s the saviour of your meal.
This is pasta water, or as I like to call it THE ELIXIR OF THE GODS. This is what brings your dish together (and to life). After you drain the pasta, save a cup of the hot water and combine a splash of it with your pasta and sauce, it will loosen the sauce but also thicken it at the same time and bring the sauce and pasta together into a silky and sexy relationship (oo-er).
Remember when I said that the pasta and sauce need to marry?
Well imagine the pasta and sauce are the couple and the water is priest, you need the latter to bring the former two together. Get the picture? Good 🙂
Right, now that all of the (vitally important) technicalities are out of the way, it’s time to start cooking!!
Next post: Orecchiette Semplice
Work that hob and Walk unafraid people 🙂