If you have ever strolled through the streets of Italy and stopped for lunch at a family-run restaurant or grabbed a “square” of pizza, you might have noticed one thing: the simplicity of Italian cuisine. Simple, high-quality, seasonal ingredients, cooked using simple techniques.
The main idea behind Italian cuisine is to use the best ingredients you can find, favoring those that are in season, and do as little as possible to them.
The 20 regions of Italy offer extremely varied culinary traditions, shaped by differences in geography, history, and climate. A dish considered one city’s signature could be totally unknown a few kilometers away. This great variety makes it impossible to summarize Italian cuisine in an article, but we can at least cover some basics about Italians’ most loved food: pasta.
Cooking pasta is, you guessed it, simple. Follow these easy tips to make sure you end up with perfect pasta every time:
- Use a large enough pot and enough water – about 5 quarts of water for a pound of pasta.
- Salt your pasta water – a couple of tablespoons of salt for 5 quarts of water. This will lead to much tastier pasta.
- Wait for the water to be boiling before you put the pasta in.
- Stir your pasta within the next minute, and mix it a couple extra times through the cooking to prevent it from sticking together and cooking unevenly.
- Cook your pasta al dente, which means slightly resistant to the bite, yet cooked through. Use the directions on the box as a guide, but check the pasta a few minutes before, because cooking times are not always accurate. Also, pasta will continue cooking even after it is drained (and it is always a good idea to toss it with the sauce in the your saucepan for 1 minute), so a good rule-of-thumb is to cook it about 1 minute less than what is suggested on the box.
- Reserve a cup of your pasta water. Pasta water, thanks to its high starch content, helps thicken or thin sauces and helps glue the pasta and the sauce together.
- Do not rinse the pasta. When you rinse your pasta, you will loose the coating of starch, which helps the sauce adhere to it.
- Don’t let your cooked pasta sit undressed. Drop drained pasta in your saucepan, turn to high heat, and toss with sauce for about 1 minute. This will let the pasta’s and the sauce’s flavors integrate. If you need to adjust the consistency of your sauce, add the reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Serve immediately.
- Less is more – Keep the sauce simple and don’t overuse garlic and spices. Also, do not serve too much sauce – authentic Italian pasta never swims in sauce.
- If you are cooking fresh pasta, cooking times are much faster than dried pasta. Usually 1 to 3 minutes suffice, so watch it carefully.
Now that you know how to cook pasta perfectly, click here to learn how to make two of Italians’ favorite sauces: fresh tomato sauce and pesto.
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