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OTHER ITA SITES:
How To Cook The Best Pasta The Real Italian Way
Top Seven Tips for the advanced Pasta Lover
Most people think cooking pasta is really easy. Just throw some noodles into boiling water and drain it, right?
Wrong! I am going to reveal some secrets here that will make pasta one of your favourite dishes ever.
But allow me a short digression. To a serious pasta lover, the word "noodles" is just dreadful -- at least when you talk about Italian pasta. Calling Italian pasta "noodles" would be like calling baseball "Stickball" -- just plain sad, enough to make me cry.
But let's cut to the chase. You probably think that to cook nice pasta the ingredients are the most important things. Well, guess again.
PASTA SECRET #1: ATTITUDE
The most important thing when cooking pasta is your attitude. You don't have to be a Zen archer or a samurai warrior just to prepare pasta, but one of the best pasta cooks in Northern Italy, Grandma, always told me that cooking pasta without the right attitude will never work.
Cooking pasta is an act of love, even self-sacrifice. You do not want to come right off the street with a bag of grocery and start cooking. Clean up, change your clothes, and maybe even take a shower. This puts you in the right frame of mind.
Beyond that, cooking pasta requires inner purity, personal energy, one-pointed concentration, even your prana. Otherwise cooking becomes just mechanical, heartless food preparation -- MacDonald's style cooking. Not good even for a dog.
Before you even start, stand in your kitchen, face the stove and get inwardly ready to cook. If you know how, try a short meditation. Silence around and inside you is a must. You want to be very deep inside yourself when you cook.
Visualise the pasta dish you are going to prepare. Imagine the aroma of the pasta, the mouth-watering appearance, the sound the moist pasta strands make when stirred together, even before the sauce cradles them. Imagine your joy while lifting a forkful to your mouth.
Then, act with determination, precision but never in a hurry.
PASTA SECRET #2: POT, WATER AND SALT
Once you have attitude, you need the right pot, good water and good salt.
Always use a large and deep pot. No shallow or small pan for boiling pasta! The best ones are those wonderful stainless steel beauties, with a very thick bottom. I know, they are expensive. But think how much money you'll be saving by having your pasta at home instead of going to some expensive Italian restaurant.
Use lots of water. You need 1 quart for each portion (100g. or 3.5oz) of dry pasta. Even if you are going to cook a quick "spaghettata" just for yourself, always use at least a quart of water. If your tap water is chlorinated and tastes like it just came out of a swimming pool, buy a good filtration system for your kitchen. It's worth it.
Now, the salt -- to a real Italian, there is nothing more depressing than pasta cooked without salt. You need 10 grams of salt per each quarter of water in the pot. If salt must be eliminated from your diet for health reasons, maybe you could stick to rice for a while.
There are different kinds of salt, just as there are different kinds of water and pots. Some people say that iodised salt makes tomato sauce more acidic; that's absurd. Just ordinary salt is not enough. I recommend unprocessed rock sea salt, preferably harvested from the Mediterranean sea.
PASTA SECRET #3: PASTA
Even if you are not Italian, you must know the difference between Italian pasta and *noodles*.
Pasta of course must be made only with 100% durum wheat. Durum is the hardest of all wheats. Its high protein content and gluten strength make durum wheat ideal for pasta and bread.
High-quality pasta has a golden colour with a vaguely translucent appearance. At the touch, it should feel porous. Just looking at it will give you joy.
Without any doubt, the best pasta in the world is made in Italy. Don't be fooled by packages that say "Imported from Italy". That means the pasta could be made elsewhere, and brought over to Italy just so that it can have the Italian name on it.
Also, don't trust big companies like Barilla. Their pasta is not Italian anymore, but made locally, often from low quality local non-durum wheat flour -- in Italy that's even forbidden by law. Barilla, if you are reading this, please don't forget your Italian roots: never save money on making pasta.
Use the best pasta available. I recommend you look for Italian favourites like De Cecco or Voiello. De Cecco is probably one of the best pastas you can buy outside of Italy.
PASTA SECRET #4: COOKING
Once the water is ebullient, and by that I mean boiling with zest, add the salt. Wait for the salt to dissolve -- when the water starts boiling again add the pasta.
Don't just throw the pasta in the pot. Submerge it completely all at once, at the centre of the pot where the boiling is most intense. That will allow a more even cooking.
Once it is all submerged, stir it immediately and keep stirring every minute or so. Use a wooden fork. Wood is better than metal. The metallic vibration would lessen the mysterious alchemy between salted water and pasta taking place right in front of your eyes.
Never add oil. Oil coats the pasta and causing it to repel rather than absorb the sauce. Oil is needed only if you use low-quality pasta, which tends to get glued together.
Bu sure not to overcook the pasta -- on Italian packages the cooking time is usually printed correctly.
If the package doesn't indicate the cooking time, just sample a strand of the pasta. Break it, and see if the inside -- "heart of the pasta", as we call it in Italy -- is still whitish. That means the pasta is still not cooked.
This is the most critical part of all. It is almost a matter of intuition. The only way of describing it is that you need to stop cooking at precisely the right moment when the whiteness at the "heart" is disappeared, but its shadow is still lingering. Once the whiteness is just gone, it's time for draining.
Pasta should be served "al dente", which literally means "firm to the tooth."
Overcooked pasta is not only mushy, but not edible anymore. I hope your dog likes it, because mine doesn't.
PASTA SECRET #5: DRAINING
Once the pasta is cooked, stop the cooking immediately by adding a glass of cold water. Be sure not to drain the pasta too much because that makes it too dry and takes away flavour. The strands need to be glossy with moisture.
If you use a good pasta brand you do not need to eliminate any excess starch. Too much rinsing takes away the superb flavour of your pasta.
Pasta water is not "dirty water". In fact, you want to preserve a glassful of the cooking water to add to your sauce. It is going to add that final touch of flavour that makes the marriage between pasta and sauce a perfect bond.
PASTA SECRET #6: SAUCE
American cooks usually over-sauce pasta, usually because it is so tasteless. Do not "over-sauce" your pasta. Use just enough sauce to cover the strands.
Cooked right, pasta needs no special sauce to savour it. Just try adding a trickle of Italian extra virgin olive oil, a few fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of Parmigiano Reggiano -- a veritable delight by itself.
No matter what, serve the pasta steaming hot. Never, ever serve lukewarm or cold pasta.
Serve it hot, serve it on a nice plate, serve it with a smile, Be proud of it. You worked hard, and your pasta beats with the heart of Italy.
PASTA SECRET #7: PRACTICE
I've given you the secrets handed down in the Bontempi family from generation to generation, since the times Rome was a just rustic village on the Mediterranean sea and pasta was still made of spelt flour. Now it's up to you. Practice, practice, and practice.
Let me part by saying: cooking pasta may be a solitary ritual, but eating pasta is not. Do not eat that beauty just by yourself. Make it a social event. Invite friends over.
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Travel Part B