Pasta is a store cupboard staple but if you’re anything like us, you’re not entirely sure how to cook it properly – instead, just shove some into a pan of boiling water and leave it to bubble away for ages while you do something else.
While the boiling water part might be right, the rest might be wrong, including how much you’re cooking and what you’re serving with your pasta along.
So we caught up with food writer Eleonora Galasso on the essentials plus how to bring a more authentic Italian flavour into your kitchen.
How do you cook the perfect pasta?
“Perfect pasta needs to be cooked in a generous portion of salted water. The same rule applies whether the pasta is dried or fresh.
“Fresh pasta usually takes a shorter time to cook than its dried cousin, so gnocchi should be poached and tagliatelle, pappardelle and ravioli will rise to the surface once cooked.
“For dried pasta, consider the instructions on the packet and then do it your own way. For example, when it says ‘Cooking time 9 minutes’, I like to drain it after about 7, reserving a ladle of the starchy cooking water, which is an ingredient in itself, in order to allow the pasta and the sauce to marry thoroughly.”
How much pasta should you serve per person?
“I would say that about 80-90g makes for a generous serving. How we eat pasta has changed so much over the years. Back in the day, pasta was eaten in much greater quantities. Today, people prefer generous amounts of luscious sauce, as opposed to the accompanying pasta."
Is fresh pasta better than dried?
“I find making pasta extremely meditative and believe that one should always give it a try. However, if time isn’t on your side, a good, Italian dried spaghetti works just as well.
“If I could offer you one piece of advice for Italian cooking, as well as life in general, it would be to keep it simple - it works wonders! Adding flavour to any meal can be incredibly quick and easy. Simply add a whole garlic clove to a hot frying pan and let it ‘sing’ enough to flavour the golden oil for just a few minutes before taking it out.
"Add in the additional ingredients and you will have a delicate garlic flavour through your dish.”
Which wines go best with perfect pasta?
“Along with perfectly cooked pasta, wine is a very important part of the Italian lifestyle and at large gatherings with family or friends, the wine is carefully selected to suit each dish on offer and satisfy all tastes around the dinner table," Eleanor says.
“If I was cooking a spicy, green dish such as orecchiette with broccoli rabe or tenderstem with chilli, garlic and anchovies, I would always pair this with the rich flavours of Italia Primitivo wine. This combination has been a winning one in the Apulia region for centuries, so why break tradition?
“If you’re struggling to decide on which bottle to bring to the table, don’t be afraid to mix it up and purchase a selection. If possible, take some time to research the wine and what type of dish it compliments. If time isn’t on your side - pair the wine with the strongest flavour in the dish and experiment a little, opposites can work!”
Choosing the right wine to match your meal is like selecting the perfect outfit for your mood! Today I've selected a glass of @italiawines Primitivo, which is the favorite wine of my native Italian region, Apulia. Pair this with a green, spicy recipe such as my Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe for a beautiful balance. You can see the whole recipe up online at @italiawines
What are the essential ingredients you need to bring Italian cooking into your kitchen?
1. Extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil - The oil is extracted by pressing the olives without adding heat, thereby retaining their full nutritional value and aroma. Any dish will gain an unmistakable kick from this luminous golden condiment.
2. Italian wine - I love to cook with a good Italian wine that matches the dish I’m creating. Not only is a good red wine stain on the tablecloth synonymous with a happy meal, we also use wine in many recipes, from stews to savoury pies.
3. Carnaroli or aborio rice - use either of these to ensure impeccable results for traditional Italian dishes such as timballi or fried supplì.
4. Good stock - In many Italian households, a big batch of stock is prepared ahead of the coming culinary week. To make vegetable stock, half-fill a large saucepan with water, chuck in a peeled carrot, a celery stick, a tomato, a potato and a large peeled white onion studded with a few cloves, and cook everything for 20 minutes.
5. Soffritto - This is a translucent combination of very finely chopped carrot, garlic, onion and celery that, added to a pan with some olive oil and allowed to sweat down for a few minutes, will transform the base of every sauce and condiment, whether vegetable, fish or meat-based.
6. Ricotta - This is something you buy as regularly in Italy as bread and onions. Use it to top your salads or add it to your pasta. Its flavour is so mild it gets on well with everything, from meat and fish dishes, to cake or even your breakfast toast.
Eleonora Galasso has teamed up with Italia wines to create five recipes inspired by the origins of each of the wines in the Italia range. Head to www.italiawines.co.uk for the full recipes and further information.