The secrets of an authentic Italian pasta dish
With over a hundred different varieties, Italian pasta* comes in as many versions as there are recipes. However, not many people know how to cook according to the rules of the art.
Did you know, for example, that the Italians eat pasta as a main dish and not as an accompaniment? Or that parmesan and fish are never to be seen together in an Italian recipe worthy of that name? From the choice of wheat to the cooking time, discover the stages and tips to create a perfect Italian-style pasta dish (and never upset an Italian).
A little history: the much-coveted origins of pasta
From Mesopotamia to China to Italy, there are many countries fighting for paternity. Although legend has long given Marco Polo all the credit, who was said to have brought back pasta from his Asian expedition in 1296, it would seem that the truth is quite different. Mesopotamia, the very birthplace of wheat culture, is said to have made the very first pasta around 1700 BC. The Roman legionnaires ate it in the form of thin sheets of lasagne, called ‘lasanum’, normally served with broth.
But never mind where they came from: it was in Gragnano, Italy, that artisanal pasta built its reputation. Pure water sources, numerous mills and dry air are all assets that have made this village a place conducive to its development. A real natural treasure, Gragnano pasta is today protected by a Protected Geographical Indication. (IGP) ; this oversees its production method, with its famous wire drawing in authentic bronze moulds.
From fresh pasta to dry pasta, the secret of a perfect pasta dish lies firstly in the choice of ingredients, starting with wheat.
The choice of wheat
To prepare dry pasta, Italians prioritise durum wheat that they mix with water and occasionally with an egg. Prepared in this way, it keeps for longer and is better for cooking.
Soft wheat, on the other hand, is used for making fresh pasta, such as ravioli. Its finer flour helps achieve fluffier pasta.
Among the various varieties of soft wheat, old wheats such as solina, spelt or even the einkorn wheat are making a strong comeback. Solina* makes its pasta from this typical wheat from Abruzzo. It has characteristic black grains, traces of the casing of the freshly ground seed with natural stone. Similar to wholegrain wheat, it reveals delicious hazelnut notes on the palate.
From the saucepan to the frying pan: the secrets of al dente cooking
In Italy, pasta is mostly eaten al dente. Just cooked, it offers this unique texture that is both firm and melt-in-the-mouth. To cook your pasta like in Italy, immerse it in slightly salted water, without adding olive oil. The following ratio is usually recommended: 1 litre of water per 100 g of pasta and 10 g of salt.
Then comes the final stage of well-made pasta: the «padella». This consists of gently frying the almost-cooked pasta with the sauce and a spoonful of olive oil in a hot frying pan.
One or two minutes is all it takes for the magic to work and for your pasta to soak up the sauce. As Patrizio Miceli, of Sicilian origin and founder of Al Dente La Salsa, « the pasta will then be rugged enough to absorb the sauce. You can also add a little of the cooking water to bind together all of the ingredients.»
A different sauce for each kind of pasta*
Because pasta is all about mixing, Italians add each variety of pasta to a specific sauce. They are selected to best combine their texture and bring out their different ingredients. According to Simona, founder of Deux Siciles « Among the best-known combinations, there is the bolognese, that we have with lasagne or spaghettis , or with sauce alle Vongole, served with linguine . For short pasta, we can combine a norma sauce*, preferably with Penne or Trofie twists with a good pesto. »
And there you have it: the secrets of Italian pasta. Now it’s your turn to experiment! Discover our easy sage pesto recipe, an Italian classic that we have subtly revisited.
1. Make two beautiful bouquets of fresh sage.
2. Mix them with 10 g of pine nuts, 1 clove of garlic, 50 g of parmesan cheese, 20 cl of oil and 1 pinch of coarse salt.
3. Add some olive oil to adjust the consistency if necessary, and serve with trofie.
*Find Solina’s fresh pasta at the Italian stand at La Grande Épicerie Rive Gauche.
* A Tavola: Dinner is served! - * Padella: Frying pan - * Alle Vongole: Clam sauce - * Norma: Tomato and aubergine sauce.