There are a number of common stereotypes in Italy concerning various facets of British food in general, but the one which is guaranteed to generate the greatest hilarity is the way some of us Brits cook pasta!
This is mainly fuelled by Italian language students who’ve stayed with British families and gleefully and sadistically convey stories of “pasta disasters” to horrified friends who are just about to set off.
They include cooking a mountain of pasta in a tiny saucepan; switching the heat off after the recommended time but leaving the pasta in the hot water or even bringing the pan of cooked pasta, complete with hot water, to the table for people to help themselves! The few strands of spaghetti as a side to roast beef and 2 veg always leaves them howling in laughter.
So, in an attempt to halt these frivolous tales, here are a few tips for preparing pasta just like Mamma:
First of all, remember in Italy, pasta is a starter so you wouldn’t prepare huge quantities. However there’s nothing wrong with having it as main dish.
- Always use the biggest pan you can find.
- Use 1 litre of water per 100g of pasta.
- Use 10g of large sea salt per litre of water.
- Add the salt when the water is boiling otherwise it just takes longer to boil.
- Wait till the water is boiling vigorously before adding the pasta.
- Stir the pasta straight away with a wooden spoon.
- Don’t cover the pan but keep the water boiling.
- When the pasta is al dente, strain immediately. Use the cooking time on the packet as an indication and always test yourself a minute or two before the suggested time.
- Now, hands up. Who, at this point, would pour the sauce onto the pasta and mix in? Bring the pasta to the sauce, not the other way around.
- A big difference between UK and Italian palates is found in the quantity of sauce used. Brits are very saucy and tend to submerge the pasta in huge mounds of the stuff. As a local Italian chef we know used to say, “if you want to eat sauce, use bread”.
- Good Italian pasta sauces can be extended a little by adding olive oil and a little of the cooking water, but it is the pasta quality itself that really makes the difference