How to choose the right “pasta”

How do you choose a good-quality pasta?

Well, it’s not easy.  First of all I will talk about the durum-grain (semola di grano duro) pasta.  It’s the dried one (not the fresh one), and it’s done without eggs, so just water and wheat flour (and then dried up).

There are a few things you should check when buying it.  Price may give you a first hint:  the more expensive the better (well, most of the times).  The reason is very easy:  raw materials and production have higher costs if you want a good quality product (like everything in this world). Another quick reference if you look at the same kind of pasta from two different manufacturer) is  the cooking time: higher times may refer to a better quality.  But these two parameter should not be considered as a golden rule.

There are other, more important, things you can check.  First of all you should find out if it’s bronze extruded (“trafilata al bronzo).  Most of the industrial pasta is extruded in steel or teflon machines.  These will make pasta too smooth and shiny.  Bronze on the other hand will make it porous and opaque.  This will help a lot the sauce to stick to the pasta!  So, check for this marking on the package: trafilata al bronzo.

Another important thing you should check is the “drying time”.  The best quality will have a “long and slow drying time”. And it should be written on the package.

One more hint would come from the tag that shows the nutrition fact, although not every country requires the same information to be displayed.  You should check the protein content in percentage.  In Italy for example the minimum is 10,5%, but a good quality pasta needs between 12% and 13,5%.  Above 13,5% would be an even better quality.

Last thing should be the origin of the wheat used.  But again, not every country requires this kind of information.  In Italy for example they will start to indicate the origin this year, in 2018.  (The best wheat comes from Gragnano )

Basic hints for cooking pasta

Basic hints for cooking pasta the italian way.

Let’s start!  One of the best known italian food in the world is “pasta”.  With the word “pasta” we identify dozen and dozen different kind of pasta, they may differ for shapes, cooking times and what it’s made of (durum wheat – grano duro – flour is the most common).

But the rules to cook pasta is more or less always the same.  You will need a large and tall cylindrical pot, water, cooking salt and obviously the pasta you want to cook.

Spaghetti pasta

I will not write about the sauce used to complete the pasta dish here.  I would just like to explain how pasta should be cooked in the right way.

 

The 1-10-100 rule

There is a rule we use, called 1-10-100.  It means that for every 100g (3.5oz) of pasta you need 10g (0.35oz) of cooking salt and 1lt (0.22gal) of water.  Obviously these can not be “fixed” numbers, it will depend on the shape and dimension of the pasta used and the cooking time.

For example if you want to cook 100g of spaghetti you will probably need more than just 1lt of water (probably even 2lt).  If the cooking time is longer than the average you will need to use a little less salt (water will evaporate a little if the cooking time is longer and the percentage of salt in the water will become higher).  If the kind of pasta is very large (paccheri, fusilloni are just a couple of example) you may need a little more water 1,1-1,2lt instead of 1lt.

Also, according to latest health reccomandation some chefs are suggesting to reduce the salt quantity for each litre of water to 6-7g (0.20-0.25oz for 0.22gal).

So it’s better to keep the 1-10-100 rule as a hint from where you should start, and then fine tune depending on your needs.

Time to cook!

Some people will tell you to use a little of oil in the water to avoid that pasta will stick.  This is not needed and actually it may create some problems with the sauce not being able to stick to the pasta due to the fact that the added oil create a film on each piece  that will not allow the sauce to combine.

So, put the water in the pot and bring it to boil.  Right the moment it starts to boil, add the salt and the pasta.  Stir well for a few seconds.  Then check every now and then it does not stick and stir again from time to time.

What is the right quantity of pasta?  The normal serving quantity for each person is usually around 80g (2.82oz) for the dried pasta (the whole wheat flour one). For the fresh made pasta (the one made with eggs or “pasta all’uovo) is around 60g (2.12oz) .

The right timing

Read carefully the cooking time on the package!  That is the time you need to cook to get the pasta cooked “al dente” (it’s almost cruncy to your teeth).  Try not to overcook it.  Do not exceed the cooking time on the package, otherwise you will end up with a pasta “scotta” (ovecooked).

Pasta “scotta” is not the way we eat pasta in Italy, and it may give you some troubles.  First of all it’s harder to digest.  Second, but probably more important, you need to complete the cooking process with the sauce. Usually  this means you will have to cook it a little more in the sauce.  This will result in a very overcooked pasta that will taste like “colla” (glue).

So please, stick to the cooking time on the packaging and do not exceed it.

Some links (in italian) about it.

What else…

What else will you need?

Other than excellent ingredients what else will you need?  There are other two very important elements that will help you get the right results.  These are kitchen equipment and kitchen techniques.

In this blog I will not spend too much time on equipment or techniques, unless it’s really needed.  But I want to write just a couple of hints about these two important issues.

Equipment:  the most important tools for a chef are his knives.  So it’s very important to get at least a couple of very good knives that will fit perfectly in your hand and that will have the right shape and dimension for the way you use them.  A chef knife and a paring knife.  Before you buy them, please, hold them, feel them in your hands and if you can test them.  They will be your best friends for all your cooking life.

Other important piece of equipment are, obviously, the cooking pans.  But on these I will probably return later on.

Techniques: these are very important, and you need to know at least the basic ones to achieve good results.  There are many good books about them.  I suggest you to buy Jacques Pépin’s “New Complete Techniques”, it’s the bible about cooking techniques.  736 pages full of pictures and great explanation.  It’s in English or French (unfortunately not in Italian yet).

Another very good one, and this one is in Italian, was written by the greatest italian chef who left us just few days ago, Gualtiero Marchesi: “Oltre il fornello: Segreti e consigli del re dei cuochi”.  Unfortunately I think it’s not available on paper anymore, but you can buy the e-book version (Kindle for example) and it’s a great reading.

Cooking knives
By Stefano Angeli

First of all: ingredients

First of all: ingredients

Paul Bocuse (if you don’t know who he is you should find out now!) once said: “French cuisine supremacy will last untill italian chefs will realize the huge heritage available to them, both for raw materials and for countless different culinary traditions available to them.”

Italy is a unique place.  Not just for its history and arts, but also for its foods.  Every region, every single town in Italy has its own traditions and the variety of geography (mountains, plains, hills, sea) offers hundreds and hundreds of different raw materials that can become excellent foods, great ingredients.

The raw materials are the foundations of a recipe.  You could be the best chef in the world and try to cook the best recipe of the century, but if you use bad ingredients your result will always be poor.  The first and most important thing about a good dish are the raw materials.

One should always try to get the best and most fresh ingredients available.  Frozen ones can be good enough in some cases, but it would be much better to use fresh ones.  Avoid if possible pre-cooked foods, processed ingredients that could be bought fresh or at least frozen.  Check always its price (cheap ingredients usually are cheap for a reason) and its origin (if it says it’s italian food but it’s written made in china I would not buy it).

You do not want to build a house with cheap and unknown bricks.  So you should never cook with the wrong ingredients.  If you can’t find the right ones, just change recipe.  Never settle for a compromise when you want to cook.

Italian Food Year

2018 – Italian Food Year is now!

2018 is going to be (italian food year). Lots of events, happening and exhibitions will take place during the year. The idea is to promote italian turism and culture. To explore the bonds between food, arts and italian landscapes.

I will try to keep you updated on the various events about it.  So stay tuned!

#annodelciboitaliano

Perchè in inglese (Why in English?)

Perchè un sito in inglese?

Questo blog si rivolge a tutti.  E’ stato pensato in principio per spiegare a chi non è italiano che cos’è e come si cucina un vero piatto italiano.  Poi, mentre lo stavo impostando e realizzando, ho pensato che potesse diventare qualcosa di più.  Una specie di diario, un registro dove annotare idee, consigli, esperienze.  Avrei potuto scriverlo in Italiano, riducendo così la platea a cui mi sarei rivolto.  Allora ho pensato di continuare comunque in Inglese, che tanto è ormai una lingua piuttosto conosciuta anche in Italia.  (E anche per mantenermi in esercizio, se devo dirla tutta).

Translation: Why a website in English

This blog is addressed to everyone. I conceived it, at the beginning, to explain to non-italian people what are and how to cook a true italian dish.  Then, while I was setting it up and creating the pages, I thought it could become something more.  Some kind of a diary, a logbook where I could write ideas, hints, experiences.  I could have written it in Italian, reducing this way the audience to whom I would address myself.  So I thought to keep it in English anyway, which is already a quite known language even in Italy. (Actually another reason is to keep practicing my English skills).

Welcome 2018

Welcome 2018, welcome to my blog.

Today, January 1st 2018, I am starting this trip.  A journey, a culinary journey, around the italian cuisine, its recipes, its food.  But not only.  In this blog I want to write about what I am learning in every aspect of gastronomy.

I will write about traditional italian recipes, what ingredients are needed (the right ones and the wrong ones), what techniques are required, the history of the recipe and all of this will also bring me to examine in depth the italian food products, how to chose them, where to find them, how to use them.

I have been cooking all my life, for almost 30 years all by myself.   But I have never really studied “cooking”.  I read a lot of book, tested a lot of recipes, but never with the right focus, with the right purpose.  I never realized that cooking for me was a passion.  After 30 years I finally got it.  And this discovery came with some pain, with some disappointment:  the moment I realized all I wanted was to cook, I also realized that I did not know how to do it right.  All the things I learned in 30 years were useless, wrong or not enough studied.  I needed to restart all over again, from scratches.

30 years ago

In 1988 I left my parents home and went to live by myself in Milan, in a small apartment.  I started to cook for myself, for my friends, testing new recipes and using my friends as “guinea pigs”.  30 years ago.  Then in 2000 I got married and I started to use my wife as “guinea pig” (do not tell her I called her this way).

I would like to thank all my friends and most of all my wife for all the patience in these years, while I was trying to learn.  I did it in the wrong way.  But all of you were always very supportive.

Exactly 30 years later it’s time to change.  I want to approach cooking in a completely different way.

Today

Today my culinary trip is set to start again, this blog will be my logbook.  If you want to travel with my I will feel honored to bring you with me in this new adventure.

Time to start!

Stefano Angeli