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Pasta, the star of the show!

Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner  – Sophia Loren

Pasta, like pizza and ice cream, all hail from Italy, but of the three, pasta is perhaps the most versatile of culinary adventures.

Pasta is one of the easiest things in the world to cook, right? Then why do so many people make the mistake of making overcooked, soggy pasta? Perhaps it’s because there are so many myths about the best way to cook pasta. Let’s take a look at some of the false myths surrounding pasta

Myth 1: Add oil to the pasta while cooking to prevent it from sticking together

This really does not work and won’t stop the pasta clomping together – the oil generally rises to the surface of the water, that’s all. It will eventually go down the sink – what a waste! Oil may actually prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta. Really all you need is add the pasta to fully boiling water and make sure there is plenty of it in the pot whist it cooks. And, oh yes, give it an occasional stir

Myth 2: Rinse the pasta in water after cooking

Some cooks believe it necessary to wash away the starchy residue, but most Italians will tell you not to do this – in fact they recommend that you add a little of the starchy cooking water to the finished pasta. This helps the sauce to stick to the pasta and will also improve the flavour.

Myth 3: Pasta should be cooked without a lid

It really does not make any difference to the pasta at all; just make sure it does not boil over.

Myth 4: There is no need to add salt to the cooking water

Some cooks think that salting the pasta after cooking or just salting the sauce is sufficient and the way to go. Every Italian you talk to will tell you that you need to liberally salt the water (about 2-3 tablespoons of course salt or 1-2 tablespoons fine salt) or the flavour will not develop and the pasta will be absolutely tasteless. The Italians say that the pasta water should be as salty as the sea!!

Myth 5: If pasta sticks to the ceiling, it is done!

This really is a myth but can be great fun AND a mess to clean up!

Myth 6: “Al Dente” means the pasta is not cooked yet

Al Dente means “to the tooth” and this is the only way to eat pasta because it is easier to digest. Remember that over cooked pasta releases starch into the water (it will go milky) and makes it sticky and difficult to digest. The best way to check if the pasta is cooked is to continually check it by eating some. It should have a firm texture, be slightly chewy without any white in the middle when you bite into it. 

If you are not absolutely sure, it is better to take it off the heat and drain it even if it is a little underdone as it will go on cooking whilst you are plating up.  

Myth 7: The Chinese invented pasta

This myth sprang from the 1938 film “The Adventures of Marco Polo” staring Gary Cooper, which depicts a young explorer return to Italy from China loaded with noodles which he sold as spaghetti. In fact, a dry pasta called “itriyya” was produced in Palermo as far back as the 12th Century.

Italian pasta is made with durum wheat, whilst the Chinese use wheat flour or rice. 

Myth 8: Fresh pasta is better than dried

This is not necessarily the case; they are just different; with fresh taking about half the cooking time of dried pasta.

Italians use fresh pasta with particular sauces and dry for others, so it depends on which sauce you are pairing it with.

As a rule of thumb, use fresh pasta for more delicate, creamy, dairy based sauces such as alfredo or carbonara and dry pasta, with its firmer structure stands up to any meaty, oil-based sauces, except funnily enough, Bolognese which is the exception to the general rule.

Myth 9: Any pasta goes with any sauce

This is a contentious subject, but here are some guidelines about what type of sauce is best paired with which type and shape of pasta.

Ragùs, meat-based sauces with a little tomato, pair best with flat, wide pasta such as tagliatelle, pappardelle or maltagliati. 

Light, refined (thinner) sauces go well with delicate, thinner pasta such as capellini (angel hair pasta)

Thick sauces work well with tubular noodles such as rigatoni, penne, or paccheri

Tomato based sauces pair well with spaghetti.

Seafood sauces and pesto traditionally go well with linguine. 

 

To sum up, there are no “rules” about which types of pasta you must use with different kinds of sauces, remember that the thicker the pasta, the heavier the sauce or topping it can accommodate

 

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