Food writer Laura Santtini has been a prominent voice in food since 2009. She's Italian born and a firm believer that the sauce is the heart and soul of each dish. So, along with insider knowledge on secrets of cooking pasta, she also explains when it's better to use fresh or dry pasta and which shapes work with which sauce.
How to cook pasta like an Italian
What you need for boiling pasta
1 large pot with a lid, 4-5 litre capacity
1 large colander
I rarely recommend investing in specialist kitchen equipment but when it comes to pasta pots I really believe it is one of the best investments a home cook can make. Proper pasta pots have a 4-5 litre capacity, a large inbuilt colander and a lid. I have had mine for years and use it for everything from chicken soup and stocks to boiling vegetables.
Boiling pasta Italian-style
Fill a large pot with water, cover and bring to the boil. The rule is 1 litre water for every 100g pasta.
When at a rolling boil add 1 tablespoon rock salt (a palm-full) and wait for the water to comeback up to the boil. The rule is approximately 10g rock salt per litre of water.
Taste the water for salt. You want to make sure that it is salty enough to season your pasta and not too salty to spoil it.
Aside from the obvious flavour factor, adding salt to the cooking water also encourages the release of starch from the pasta, which is why salting the water properly is another fundamental pasta secret.
Add the pasta to the boiling salted water and stir with a long carving fork. Bring the water back up to the boil and lower the heat slightly to avoid the pot boiling over and cook as directed on the packet. Do not cover, as this will cause the pasta to stew.
Stirring is important especially with long pastas to make sure that each strand is released and not stuck in the bottom of the pot like a witches boom! Once pasta is free and swimming there is no need to add oil to stop it from sticking- the rolling water will see to that. Test pasta and drain.
There are two ways Italians combine pasta with sauce:
Hot pasta into hot sauce: Scratch cook a quick sauce in a sauté pan and tip in the hot drained pasta. Add a splash of cooking water, toss with gusto and serve.
Hot pasta into cold sauce: Place the ingredients in a serving bowl, using raw crushed garlic, olive oil and ingredients of choice, and tip the hot drained pasta directly into the bowl to unlock the flavours and aromatics. Toss with gusto and serve.
Which shape, which sauce?
Italians have spent centuries developing pasta shapes to catch, trap or elude their saucy counterparts. The general rule is long smooth shapes for oily sauces (spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle) where you do not want to trap the oil.
Cleaver sauce-catching shapes and wide fresh pastas to catch all the flavour of hearty meat- or tomato-based sauces (shells, rigatoni, fusilli, pappardelle).
Tiny pasta shapes and short-cut fresh pasta for broths and soups.
Everything else in-between is all part of the fun. It is worth noting that each shape, size and type will have a different optimum cooking time.
Pasta Secrets by Laura Santtini (Ryland Peters and Small) is available for purchase from Loot.co.za for R289. Click here to purchase