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Alessandro, here in Australia we eat stacks of pasta and lots of Italian. But what are we doing wrong with our cooking?
You're right, Australians love Italian food and particularly pasta which is great to see. One of the best things about my job as Executive Chef for Barilla is the ability to continually improve this experience for people, by pointing out a few simple things that everyone can do better and cook the very best pasta dish possible. These are some of my pointers:
1. Many people believe pasta is pasta is pasta
This is a misconception! Not all pasta is the same. The quality of the pasta depends on the quality of the ingredients. A simple cooking test will tell you. If the water doesn’t froth intensely when boiled, and remains clear after cooking, and the pasta is a golden colour, then you are using good products like Barilla.
2. Use lots of water!
We’ve discovered most people don’t use a big enough pot or enough water to cook their pasta. The rule is one litre per 100 grams of pasta.
3. Remember to salt your cooking water
Salted water helps to enhance the flavour of the pasta. Add salt just as the water reaches boiling point which is just before you add the pasta. Add 7 grams of salt per litre of water.
4. Oil and water don’t mix
With premium quality pasta, there’s no need to add oil. It will just coat the pasta causing the sauce to slide off rather than bind to it. However, cooking poor quality pasta may require oil to combat the amount of sticky starch that it releases when cooked.
5. No need to rinse
Again if it’s good quality pasta like Barilla pasta, there’s absolutely no need to rinse. Only a small amount of starch is released during cooking, so the pasta doesn’t stick together. In fact, rinsing removes the pasta’s light starch coating which is what you need to hold the sauce.
6. Al dente perfection
Pasta should be cooked ‘al dente’. Quite literally this means ‘to the tooth’ or slightly firm to the bite. Ideally it should be tasted from the boiling pot and then cooked to finish in the pan with the sauce, to allow the flavours to really combine.
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RECIPE: Italian Veal
7. Match your pasta to the sauce
Italians use less sauce than Australians do. That’s because they want to taste the pasta as well as the sauce. So if it’s good pasta, don’t drown it. The general rule is to use as much sauce as pasta, and finish cooking the pasta by tossing it in the sauce. However, pesto sauce can be used as a simple garnish and doesn’t require heating. Simply toss through your cooked pasta to combine.
In Italy there are over 300 types of pasta, a signature dish for every region. Different shapes suit different sauces. For instance short pasta like penne goes with chunky meat and vegetable sauces. Fettuccine or pappardelle suit rich creamy sauces and bucatini and cannelloni are ideal for baking.
8. Pasta is made from durum wheat
Better pasta is in fact made from semolina which is produced by milling kernels of durum wheat. Barilla pasta is made from 100% high quality durum wheat.
9. Good pizza…
And as for pizza, real Italian pizza base is crispy thin with simple toppings, never pineapple!
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Which is the worse cooking "crime"?
To me personally the worst crime when cooking pasta is to overcook it. Overcooked pasta and too much sauce - I have seen that a few times, even before joining Barilla.
Overcooked, poor quality pasta goes soft and loses its shape, and is not great for your digestion. Use good quality pasta like Barilla and it will always cook al dente. Remember not to drown your pasta in sauce but rather, cook it like the Italians do - take the pasta out from the water a couple of minutes before the suggested cooking time and allow it to finish cooking together with the sauce. Even better, add a cup of the boiling cooking water which is contains salt and a little starch to the sauce and this will bring the whole dish together.
What other secret Italian cooking tips do you have that we don't know here in Australia?
At a time when cooking and food preparation is so popular, it can be hard to find something new to tell people. As a chef, I always tell people to cook from your heart. Don't be afraid to use your taste buds and try new things, because unless you're excited and it comes from within, you won't be able to produce a great dish. Of course, it always helps to use best quality ingredients like Barilla too!
Finally, has Australia impressed you with its Italian food talent and quality? How do we compare with Italy?
I love Australia and there are a lot of talented Italian chefs in this country. I have lived in Melbourne and Sydney and have been fortunate enough to dine in some of the best restaurants around. I'm always impressed by the use of fresh produce and modern interpretations of classic dishes. But to compare with Italy, it is tough - the climate, produce, knowledge and culture are completely different. The result is two quite different, equally impressive, experiences!
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