5 Ways to Cook Pasta Like a True Italian

Cooking How-To, Featured Article
on October 24, 2013
Meat and Pear Open Ravioli
Photography by Lucy Schaeffer

If there’s one thing Italians are known for, it’s their pasta. And if there’s another thing Italians are known for, it’s tradition. So in honor of our friends in the Mediterranean, we’re sharing recipes and simple tips to give you the knowledge and know how to cook like a true Italian nonna, courtesy of Francine Segan’s Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy.

1. Consult your buds.
Taste once, taste twice, and then taste again. Although recipes usually give measurements for each ingredient required, the provided amounts aren’t always set in stone; flavors vary from kitchen to kitchen. To ensure your pasta turns out deliciously seasoned and inhale-ably good, taste it constantly, season accordingly, and cater the dish to your liking. Like a true Italian, feel free to add, subtract, or substitute whenever you see fit.

2. Use high quality ingredients.
High quality doesn’t have to mean expensive, although sometimes (admittedly) it will. Choosing high quality ingredients simply means selecting the freshest vegetables and herbs, the best-possible pasta, and yes, top-notch olive oil and cheese to provide optimum richness of flavor. The latter ingredients can sometimes carry a hefty price tag, but the former items are readily and inexpensively available at farmers’ markets, or can be grown at home. But regardless of price, the return on investment will be great, and your pasta will receive a first class face-lift.

3. Commit to homemade ingredients.
Everybody knows it: nothing beats the taste of homemade…anything. Whether it’s marinara sauce, chicken broth, breadcrumbs, or pasta, the freshness and love that goes into these staple items makes all the difference in both flavor and texture. Sure, buying said items at the store is fine in a pinch, but if you want to take your pasta to the next level—the Eye-talian level—stew your own sauces, dry out your own bread crumbs, and for goodness sake, freshly grind your own black pepper and grate your own cheese.

4. Find spatial balance.
Akin to your teenage daughter, pasta gets claustrophobic and agitated when crowded together with one hundred family members, but alternatively feels lonely when left completely alone. That being said, pasta needs its space, but it also needs to feel the love. Make sure your pot of water is large enough to allow the pasta to swim freely, “like a fish in the ocean,” but keep a watchful eye, as with your experimental teen. Most importantly, refrain from rinsing your pasta after straining it, or else sauces and other delicious ingredients will have trouble adhering.

5. Saltare in padella.
Finish cooking in the sauce. The cardinal rule to cooking pasta like an Italian, saltare in padella (or “jumping in the pan”) instructs cooks to remove the pasta from the boiling water before it reaches al dente, and then to finish cooking the pasta in the pan with the sauce. The natural starch from the pasta will allow the sauce to thicken and the flavors to meld, disguising your dish as something straight from the Old Country.