Pasta alla Italiana vs. pasta alla Inglese
Whilst you may have grown accustomed to Anglo-Italian dining, there are some things you just need to know. That’s why we’re here to dispel some of the most common pasta myths and finally put a stop to those pasta faux-pas we all make from time to time!
Pasta Prep | Boiling Pasta
Believe it or not, before the pasta has even reached the plate, we are guilty of error. Whilst many believe that adding a dash of oil to the boiling water will aid the process of cooking, this step has no place in any Italian kitchen (despite the nation’s amore for olio d’oliva…) and does nothing to assist with either the taste or cooking itself.
The only thing you should be adding to the pan of boiling water is salt…and plenty of it! Unsure whether you’ve added enough? To quote Italian chef Anna del Conte – “it should taste like the Mediterranean”
The next misdemeanour? Timing. We’ve all been there, in a bid to ensure your pasta is well and truly ‘cooked’, you’ve left the pasta on the hob for an questionably long time, with the result that it becomes a somewhat sad-looking soggy heap, boiled for so long that it has adopted an ill-coloured hue before finally being slopped onto the plate. However, adopting such a cautionary approach is misguided. The truly Italian way of cooking pasta is ‘al dente’, literally translated as “to the tooth”, and thus meaning that the pasta should have a firmness to the bite.
Once cooked, many of us are guilty of immediately clambering for the colander, frantically throwing the pan in the sink and draining away the water from the pasta when in fact, we’re draining away lot of its goodness! Whilst at first glance this liquid may appear murky and unassuming, such starch-rich water should actually be reserved as it helps the sauce in ‘sticking’ to the pasta.
Pasta and Sauce
Many of you will be familiar with the experience of looking in your fridge after a long day, gazing wistfully at various random ingredients on the shelf: a courgette here, a green pepper there; “I’ll make the perfect tomato sauce…”, you say to yourself, “perhaps I’ll even throw in some oregano for good measure” before completing the dish with half a packet of pasta from your cupboard.
Whilst you may be used to cobbling together a pasta dish with whatever ingredients you have hanging around, the appropriate sauces with which to pair pasta are specific. You may think it’s not important, but when you taste a chunky ragu which nestles in between parcels of paccheri or spaghetti in a creamy sauce, you’ll instantly see why the exact combinations are so key to maximising your experience of each dish.
Then comes the issue of plating your pasta. The sauce should not be viewed as a crowning addition to the dish, plopped onto the top in a heap but instead combined with the pasta, so that the sauce and pasta are inseparable – each piece of pasta perfectly entangled within the sauce. Thus, to ensure this is the case, transfer the pasta to the pan rather than the other way around to ensure that the pasta is fully coated.
A chunky chicken pasta? Absolutely not! Seafood linguine with a cheesy topping – are you joking? Flavour combinations which some of us view as quintessentially Italiani will most definitely not be found in any Italian recipe book. In shops across the nation, the shelves are lined with ready-made dinners which use protein-packed pieces of chicken to ‘bulk’ up pasta dishes. Whilst no doubt nutritious, (and delicious), you would be hard pressed to stumble upon any trattoria or restaurant in Italy which would serve chicken and pasta together. This, we’re sorry to say, is not an authentic Italian dish!.
Unfortunately, we have to say the same for the iconic dish Spaghetti Bolognese, an Italian classic, right? Wrong. Sorry to burst the bubble and ruin the image you have in your head of a couple sharing a string of spaghetti by candlelight à la Lady and the Tramp but it’s actually not quite right. In fact, to put it bluntly, it’s entirely fictional. An Italian-branded Anglo concoction if you will. But there’s no beating around the bush, as cooking guru Antonio Carluccio himself said, “Spaghetti Bolognese doesn’t exist in Italy”. If looking for a truly Italian ‘version’, try tagliatelle alla bolognese – a hearty dish hailing from the Italian region of Emilia Romagna is your most likely bet!
Garlic bread. Guzzling a great big slab of garlic bread must be the perfect addition to your meal, right? Especially for soaking up the juices from a saucy pasta! As a side dish conjured up in America? Absolutely. As part of a truly authentic meal in ITALIA? Non è una possibilità.
You may be used to frequenting restaurants with various condiments adorning the tables: salt, pepper, dressings and sauces. Believe us, when we say less is more. When eating in Italy, you’re unlikely to find such things when dining out. In fact if these extras haven’t been provided, it’s for a reason. Leave it to the chef – if salt or parmesan was needed, it would have already been added. It’s a sign. Likewise, when you’re cooking at home, try to avoid smothering your dishes with mountains of parmesan. Make no mistake: we LOVE parmesan, but believe it or not, it’s not actually necessary with every pasta dish…
Whilst we’re used to pasta taking pride of place as the focal point of a meal, when casting your eye over an Italian menu, you will discover that pasta comes under the ‘primo’ section amongst others like soup and rice-based dishes. This is then followed by the secondo – a more protein-rich course in which you will find seafood and meat-based courses.Interested in eating around pasta
Eating your pasta!
Whilst the British are accustomed to polishing off a portion of pasta at lightning speed, the Italians take a far more relaxed approach, taking their time over each dish. An additional faux-pas – committing the ultimate pasta sin and using a knife to chop up the strands to make it ‘manageable’ to eat. Not only does this create utter carnage by butchering a beautifully prepared dish, it’s also far less satisfying than strands of spaghetti clinging to your twisting fork.
Ultimately, we need to leave the Italians to do what they do best: pasta! With this in mind, why don’t you take a look at what our own Italian chefs have been busy creating in our kitchen and order one of our authentic, artisanal dishes this weekend?
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