Traditional Roman dish, cacio e pepe. Photo: Naotake Murayama/Flickr
A very good way to lose friends in Italy is to mess with pasta. Fiddling with the tried and trusted Italian methods can also affect the taste of the dish, but many foreigners don’t even realise their technique is unorthodox.
Food writer and artisan pasta writer Silvana Lanzetta shares her golden rules for perfect pasta with The Local, to ensure you end up with a delicious meal cooked to al dente perfection.
Browsing the internet, you come across many opinions on the best way to cook pasta.
I’ve seen everything: soaking dry pasta for a hours to give the impression of eating fresh pasta; toasting pasta in the oven before boiling it; cooking it in a frying pan without boiling the water first; and the passive method, consisting of boiling the pasta for the first couple of minutes, then switching the heat off to finish the cooking by soaking it in the hot water.
Usually, all these methods are followed by a string of comments from indignant Italian people, who cannot stand the butchering of their beloved food.
A typical comment from an Italian distressed at an unorthodox recipe.
But why do we get so upset? After all, ‘it’s just pasta’, they say in their defence.
The fact is that all of these fancy methods affect the pasta in ways that many cannot even imagine, and some of them are even potentially dangerous to health.
For instance, soaking the pasta and the practice of not cooking the pasta in boiling water prevent the gelatinization of the starches, which is an essential process if we want to make our pasta digestible.
And toasting the pasta destroys the lysine and all the B vitamins which pasta is so rich in. For the passive method, you need to use a lot of water- about five litres- to keep it hot enough for gelatinization to happen.
But if you want to eat a plate of delicious pasta al dente, the way Italians enjoy it every lunchtime, then you have to learn how to cook pasta…