Antonio Carluccio
16 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Alastair Hendy

If pasta didn’t exist, it would have to be urgently invented. Italy is generally recognised as the home of pasta, and this dish is consumed and enjoyed at least once daily: there are more than 600 official shapes and an equal amount of sauce combinations. Pasta is versatile, economical, easy to prepare, satisfying, good as an energy provider and fun to eat. Enough with the praise!

Pasta is such a rich, intricate and diverse subject that it really deserves an entire book of this size all on its own. I will try with the space given here to explain the complex philosophy of pasta. For there are certain rules which, when observed, produce excellence; if they are not followed, the result is mediocrity.

Types of pasta

Most commercial pasta is made with durum wheat semolina and water. It is extruded through a machine with a die at high pressure, cut to size and dried in a process lasting some 12 hours. Other commercial, dried pastas are made with the addition of eggs. This gives more protein and a different texture.

There is also a handmade pasta, made with just water, durum wheat semolina and 00 flour. This comes usually from Puglia where they hand-make orrecchiette, fusilli, strozzapreti and cecatelli, and also from Tuscany, where the pasta is called strangozzi.

Stuffed pastas are also available everywhere now, such as ravioli, tortellini, tortelloni, tortelli and cappelletti (very good in broth). These are best freshly made, and can be bought in good delicatessens.

For special occasions, Italians feel they must make their own fresh pasta, either simply with flour and water, or with egg. In my opinion there are very few good fresh pastas available in shops, and I firmly believe the best is one that you make yourself.

Pasta sauces

Right pasta, right sauce

Spaghetti and all round and long pastas are suitable for most sauces, but not bolognese. The ideal pastas for bolognese are homemade egg tagliatelle (a flat ribbon of pasta), and dried egg and eggless tagliatelle (from shops). Tagliolini, the smallest form of tagliatelle, is particularly good with truffle and other delicate sauces like crab or lobster. Angel’s hair or capelli d’angelo is a particularly thin type of long pasta, which is wonderful with a simple tomato sauce and even in broth. Short bulky pasta like paccheri, macaroni and penne are good for arrabbiata or long-cooked meat and tomato ragù. The very small pasta, pastina, is used in broth and soups.

Tomato pasta sauces

The majority of Italian pasta sauces contains tomatoes. Besides colour, a ripe tomato gives a certain degree of acidity to balance the other ingredients, which results in a wonderful taste. Out of season (and sometimes in season too), Italians now use a great deal of canned and jarred tomato products, which are very convenient indeed.

—Canned peeled tomatoes, called pelati, which contain the seeds, pulp and lots of water, can be used in long cooking sauces.

—Chopped tomatoes in cans, also called tomato pulp are very useful. The pulp is in chunks, without seeds or skin, and can be used for any sort of sauce.

—Tomato passata in jars is liquidised and strained tomato, which is of a thinnish consistency (often too thin for my liking). This can be used by itself (as a sort of coulis) or in combination with the other two above for long-cooking sauces, and also for immediate use.

—Tomato concentrate is a paste or purée (usually in a tube, sometimes a little can), which consists of a double concentration of tomato. This is used to reinforce the taste of normal tomatoes. In Sicily they use a six-times concentrate sold everywhere called strattu, from ‘extract’. It is solid, very dark in colour and has to be diluted with water.

Other pasta sauces

—Meats are often used in sauces. Minced beef, veal, pork or even game like wild boar, deer, hare and pheasant etc, are used for ragù (long-cooked sauces). Sometimes chicken livers and sweetbreads are added. Cured and preserved meats (speck, smoked ham, pancetta, Parma ham, salami) are also great flavour additions.

—All types of seafood, like mussels, clams, lobster, crab, scallops, prawns, shrimps, cuttlefish, squid, octopus, and many de-boned fish such as red mullet, monkfish, sardines, tuna and even Dover sole, are used in a number of popular pasta sauces. Canned or jarred anchovies, either preserved in salt or oil, are particularly important.

—Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, chicory, green beans, broad beans, peas, artichokes, asparagus, borlotti and cannellini beans, potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, beetroot, chickpeas and mushrooms add texture and flavour to pasta sauces. Onion and garlic (sometimes together) are basics, as are carrot and celery (all forming part of what the Italians call soffritto). Dried porcini mushrooms (ceps) are wonderful when the fresh are not available.

—Flavourings and condiments vary enormously. Olive oil, butter or both together, are vital, as are salt and pepper, eggs on occasion, and truffle oil every now and then. I’m not fond of cream with pasta unless I am making tortellini with cream and ham, as I find it reduces everything to the same taste.Wine and vinegar play a part, as do the great cheeses of Italy – Parmesan and grana padano, Fontina, Gorgonzola, pecorino, mozzarella and Taleggio.

—A lack of success in pasta sauces is often due to the wrong use of herbs. Italians don’t use them too profligately, just appropriately to the dish. Celery leaves, basil, parsley (flat-leaf), chives, chervil, rosemary, fresh oregano (very strong), mint, rocket and chillies are used often, but with care and love.

Whatever you choose, do remember that in Italy generally the simpler the better.

Pasta cooking and eating

—The pot for boiling the pasta must be high and large.

—Use 1 litre of water for 100 g pasta.

—For small portions, allow 50 g of pasta per person; 70–80 g for normal portions and 100–110 g for large portions.

—Add 10 g salt per litre to the water just before boiling.

—Place the pasta into the boiling water and stir after 20–30 seconds.

—Don’t add oil unless you are cooking pasta sheets like lasagne.

—Cook for from 2–3 minutes for fresh home-made pasta up to 18–20 minutes for dried non-egg pasta (follow the directions on the packet).

—For soups or minestrones put the pasta directly in the stock.

—Test one piece of pasta towards the end of cooking to see if it is to your liking. The Italians like it cooked, but still with a light resistance to the tooth (al dente).

—Have the sauce prepared, and place a few tablespoons in a hot soup bowl.

—Drain the pasta, but do not wash under cold water, and mix with a little of the sauce. (The sauce might benefit from a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water if it is too thick.)

—Place portions in hot plates, and top up with more sauce. But remember, the pasta mustn’t be swimming in sauce.

—If necessary add freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese. Pasta with fish sauce is better tossed with the sauce in the pan (and no Parmesan added).

—Serve the pasta hot, and if it is long, eat only with a fork: lift a few strings of pasta from the plate, make a little space on the side, pin the fork down and start to twirl. This is to avoid too big a morsel. Try also not to suck strings into your mouth (although this is permitted for babies). Eat only soupy pasta with a spoon. This is the be-all and end-all of pasta etiquette!

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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