When a non-Italian thinks of Italian food, two dishes come to mind: pasta and pizza. Kneading the dough for a pizza means some work, so the first meal that most people prepare if they think to ‘cook Italian’, they try a pasta dish.
Despite the fact that there are thousands of Italian pasta (and pizza) recipes, most non-Italians do not cook a dish that an Italian would identify as Italian. In the remainder of this piece we will take a look at how to make these meals more realistic without having to move home to southern Europe.
As this piece is about pasta dishes, we should start with the pasta itself. Assuming that you would like to use dry pasta and boil it, you should only purchase pasta that is made from durum wheat semolina flour. If you would like whole wheat durum semolina flour, that is all right too.
Do not be satisfied with a pasta merely because it has an Italian name. Check the ingredients. Once you have the pasta, inspect it.
Feel it, even look at it under a magnifying glass. It should feel course and rough. When it swells up this roughness will allow the pasta to gather up more sauce than ‘smooth’ pasta.
Durum semolina flour is course, rough and solid which is why it is used. It is not being used because it is less expensive, so do not let anyone tell you that pasta made from high quality bread flour is better. It most certainly is not.
Pasta is best consumed al dente according to Italians, which translates as ‘to the teeth’ or a bit chewy. Pasta made from most flours other than durum will not attain that quality, because it goes straight from hard to soft or over-cooked. You can easily recognize this low quality if the pasta collapses or breaks up.
When you have purchased good pasta, you have to cook it well. Pasta is starchy and will give off starch, just like rice, so it should be boiled in a large pan with plenty of water. Add salt after the water has boiled, if you have to and then add the pasta.
Buying the right pasta is only half the battle, unless you only want to pour some olive oil on it or eat it with a salad.
Different pastas take various lengths of time to cook, but most cooks will have begun the sauce long before cooking the pasta anyway.
However, if the sauce is very thick and the pasta water is not very salty, you can use some of it to thin the sauce down before serving. This blends the flavours fairly well.
The sauce is also of local importance, but it contains tomatoes more often than not in the south and less so as you travel north, where it is cooler.
In the north a sauce to be served with pasta may contain more vegetables and oil than in the south or the pasta might be eaten in a salad.
Owen Jones, the writer of this piece writes on a number of topics, but is at present concerned with Recipes to Lower Your High Blood Pressure. If you want to know more, go to our web site at Gourmet Recipes and Good Health.Like this blog post? Buy me a coffee or send me a tip!!!