THE POT, THE WATER AND THE SALT NEEDED TO COOK SPAGHETTI
The pot in which you boil the water and cook any pasta
must be big enough. Pastas need to boil in plentiful water.
This is the first mistake most foreigners do: they put too
little water because they think that it is just the same,
and so they will save time.
When should you put salt in the water? Italians don't agree
on this point, like on many things about how to cook pasta
(and especially the sauce). There are many point of views,
and sometimes you have the impression that every Italian
has a personal opinion, which is very typical of the Italians
in general. On the other hand the Italian cuisine follows
a traditional outlook of life and very specific customs,
rules and principles. Curious, isn't it?
I (Mauro - son) prefer to put the salt just before the water
boils, because if you put it before it makes the pots become
brown. Half tablespoon of salt for every 100 gr. of pasta
(i.e. 3.6 ounces, the usual dose for one person) should be enough. Then
of course you put the pasta (spaghetti or other sort) and
you must stir (in Italian: "girare la pasta"): continuously for the first minute or two,
and every 20-30 seconds after. If you don't do it the pasta pieces will stick
between them, and to the pot.
WHEN PASTA IS CONSIDERED COOKED
Every type of pasta has its cooking time. Generally it
is indicated in the package, but don't take it as word of
the Bible. The Italians consider the correct procedure that
of evaluating when it is "al dente" (literally
"to the tooth").
If you know this expression Italians will have a high opinion
of you. If you don't, they will think that you know little
about pasta, and remember that the Italians, unlike many
other populations, are not nationalist, but there are a thing or two about which they believe they are the best
and, conversely, about which they think that the others
hardly understand anything. Actually these things are three: pasta, caffè
(coffee), and pizza. If you will ask a pasta "al dente"
you will impress them a lot.
So when is pasta "al dente"? At a certain stage
when it boils, as you know, it becomes a bit whitish and
softer. At this point you must take a piece with a fork,
and taste it using your incisors (so you understand the
expression now). With the incisors you must perceive that
the pasta is soft outside and hard inside, *never* all soft.
In the latter case it would be "scotta" (overcooked),
and never offer it to an Italian, as it would be like offering
a charred pancake to an Anglo-American, or a hot beer to
a German. If you have doubts, it is better that it remains
a bit raw rather than "scotta". Some Italians
think that it is "al dente" only when it is a
bit raw (I agree with them).
REMOVING THE HOT WATER
At this point you must take the water away using a colander,
without insisting too much in taking it all away. Especially,
*don't rinse it* (i.e. don't wash with water)! Generally
the Anglo-Americans and the Northern Europeans do it. Don't!
It changes abruptly the temperature and it interposes a
water film so that the pasta will not absorb the sauce.
This is a technical explanation. To the Italians it will
simply seem a barbaric procedure. The ones who rinse pasta
say that they want "to take the starch away".
This consideration is wrong and quite curious:
pasta is mostly made of starch - which is healthy!
As usual, there are many opinions and family traditions.
Every family has its own say. I tried many variants, and
made some experiments too. Finally I decided that my mother's
recipe was the best. Here it is:
- the tomatoes (app. 800 grams - nearly two pounds - or
two little cans for 4 persons) must be peeled. *I prefer
the ones sold in bottles where the pulp is very visible.
Do not use the "passata di pomodori", which is
basically the same but with filtered tomato pulp. Buy good
brands: Cirio, Star, Valfrutta, or your sauce will be tasteless
(just like with the pasta: buy the best brands: Voiello,
Barilla, Buitoni, De Cecco and, in general, the Southern
Sometimes I add a bit of concentrated tomato to make the
- put the garlic, by *cutting into little slices* one clove.
- *do the same with the onion (a quarter or one half) -
my mom does not use it -. Cut it the "Italian way",
i.e. into slices while you have it in your hands, which
is better than the "French way", i.e. into very
fine slices on a cutting board.
- you should also add 2/3 (two thirds) teaspoon of sugar,
which contrasts the acidity of the tomatoes. Most cooks
forget this essential detail!
TIPS ON THE OLIVE OIL, BASIL, SALT AND GRATED CHEESE
Let the sauce cook at low fire, covering the pot with a lid - although not
entirely - , and stirring every now and then,
for about 7-9 minutes. *One minute or two before turning
the fire off put the basil leaves in the pot. My mother
puts it at the beginning. Others put it at the end when
the fire is turned off. I belong to the majority who believes,
as mentioned, that one must put basil just before turning
the fire off.
At this point let it rest a minute. *I put salt at the end
and no olive oil. My mom puts the salt at the beginning,
and a splash of extra-virgin (and possibly Umbrian or Ligurian)
olive oil (remember, just a splan and never too much!).
Entries marked with * are my (little) variants from my mom's
recipe. The brilliant idea she has is to cook the tomatoes
as above mentioned. Most people put the olive oil in the
pot, together with the garlic and onion (and some add celery),
and they brown them before adding the tomatoes. I think
that the sauce cooked this way is heavy and not as good.
Mothers are always right, aren't they? I prefer as mentioned
not to put olive oil, not even at the end, my mom is more
normal as she puts it after the sauce is cooked.
Then of course
serve the sauce on the pasta (don't put too much), and add
the blessed grated Parmesan cheese ("Parmigiano"
in Italian). Sometimes other cheeses are preferred, like
"Pecorino romano" (salty and tasty), "Ricotta
salata" (salted dry ricotta, I love it), particularly
if you add fried zucchini slices, or fried aubergine slices
on top of the pasta (which is then called "Pasta alla
Norma"). Some prefer to add grated Grana Padano (similar
to Parmigiano, but with a less sharp taste).
BUON APPETITO - HAVE A NICE MEAL!