What should you serve with ravioli

Cook pasta like the Italians

You can find the secret of success in your pantry

As a teenager, I often stayed with my best friend - and not just because of her valued company, but also to feed myself through the many delicacies that her Tuscan Mama Patrizia prepared. A glass of homemade pistachio pesto in the refrigerator meant lunch or dinner was never far away, and on weekends she liked to serve no less than three different pasta dishes: the glass of pesto popped out of the refrigerator, a ragu simmered on the stove in front of her and a delicious carbonara was stirred together as if by magic. Of course, a large salad as a side dish, a dessert for dessert and a coffee refined with amaro to top it all off could not be missing.

It always seemed to me as if she was just stirring the dishes together - and that brings us closer to the topic: How do you cook pasta like the Italians? It's not just about the perfect cooking time for pasta (al dente) and the sensible use of pasta water! This is about real craft. How do you create great dishes from a few ingredients from my pantry that enrich every family weekend à la Patrizia or a quick pasta for two after a long day at work? I am thinking of the greatest pasta dishes, such as creamy cacio e pepe, spaghetti carbonara or pasta all'Amatriciana, which are made with simple yet so good basic ingredients (e.g. dry pasta, long-life cheese, black pepper, eggs, pancetta, chilli flakes and tomato paste). They are the best proof that simple dishes are often the best!

So let's delve into the depths of pasta preparation — or rather, into your pantries.

1. The right pasta for the sauce

Before we start: did you choose the right pasta? The most important here are the size and texture. Does the sauce go well with the selected pasta? Will your sauce flatter the pasta properly, absorb larger pieces and complement the sauce with meat perfectly?

The classic among the wrong combinations of pasta types and sauces is what many people call the most typical pasta dish from Italy: Spaghetti Bolognese. A really bad export! Traditionally, a "ragu alla Bolognese" is served with a long, thick pasta like pappardelle that the sauce can really hold onto. If you pair thin strands of spaghetti with a heavy, meaty sauce, you will find an unnecessary amount of sad sauce on the bottom of the plate by the end of dinner.

You can find a more detailed explanation of which pasta goes with which sauce here.

2. Use enough water

First, you fill a large, tall saucepan with a large amount of water. This prevents the starch concentration in the water from being so high and the pasta from sticking together less. You really need more water than you think - I usually decide that based on a sense of proportion, but the Rome-based author Rachel Roddy recommends this rule of thumb: For every 100 grams of pasta, 1 liter of water. As soon as the water starts to simmer, the pasta can be added to the water - and that brings us to the next important factor: salt.

3. Generously salt the pasta water

I have always been taught not to salt the water until it is boiling. That was always the right way for me. The Italians, however, are divided into two camps: Some argue that salt in cold water leads to faster cooking, while the other side is convinced of salting after cooking, as the salt slowly breaks the pot.

Since there is no clear evidence for either, I will continue to salt as before: as soon as the water boils! No matter how you do it: the most important thing is that you actually salt it, because the sodium brings unseasoned, dry or fresh pasta to life.

"As salty as the sea" is often mentioned as a measure, but we're not talking about the Dead Sea's water level here - a few tablespoons are usually enough. And yes, it is possible to over-salt the water. So please be careful with pasta sauces that have already been seasoned such as ragu or sauces with many very spicy ingredients, e.g. Take special care when adding pasta water, for example, to cacio e pepe or spaghetti all 'amatriciana.

Al dente means "to the tooth" in Italian - a cooking point that leaves the pasta a bit firm to the bite and, together with the sauce, ensures a better mouthfeel. To do this, take the pasta out of the pot approx. 1 to 2 minutes before the recommended cooking time - testing is expressly allowed!

5. Be sure to keep pasta water

The pasta water is an essential component of many pasta sauces as a starchy base and "thickener". Pasta water loosens up the classic pasta with pesto, forms the solid basis for cacio e pepe, extends the spaghetti aglio e olio or brings a ragu that is a little too dry back to life. Before draining the pasta, I always keep at least one large glass of pasta water, so that I can add sips to my finished sauce if necessary for the right consistency.

6. Toss the pasta in the sauce before serving

Instead of pouring the sauce over the cooked pasta, give it a chance to combine with the sauce before serving by adding the pasta to the sauce after draining (and storing pasta water) and gently stirring. The hot, starchy noodles bind better to the sauce and take on the full flavor! With a sip of pasta water you round off the dish perfectly.

Make fresh pasta yourself

If you have a little more time, you can of course make the pasta yourself. For this you need - yes, you guessed right, just a few ingredients from your pantry: eggs, flour and water. The technology? Flour or semolina are measured out, a hollow is formed, the egg is beaten in and the flour is carefully combined with the egg using a fork to form a loose dough. Now you can start kneading! With your hands you need a good 10 minutes until you have a smooth, elastic dough in front of you.

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As soon as the dough has rested, it is kneaded again and processed in a pasta machine. Now it's starting to be fun! Tagliatelle or ravioli, the choice is yours! However, you should note that fresh pasta only needs to cook in the pasta water for about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on its size and thickness.

The must-have ingredients for Italian pasta

Any type of quick pasta you can make from your supplies will need a basic set of ingredients:

1. Dried pasta of various shapes and sizes
2. Olive oil
3. Garlic
4. onion
5. Canned tomatoes
6. Parmesan or pecorino cheese
7. Chilli flakes
8. Black pepper
9. Eggs
10. Tomato paste
11. Red wine
12. White wine
13. Anchovies
14. Capers
15. Pancetta and / or guanciale

As soon as you have all these ingredients at hand, you can get started without shopping and a lot of preparation - whether a pasta carbonara or amatriciana! They also form the basis for various other pasta sauces.

The best pasta dishes without much preparation

The following recipes are true stock heroes that are easy, quick, and inexpensive. Once you have internalized these dishes, nothing stands in the way of spontaneous pasta cravings!

A supermarket nearby? This is how you spice up your pantry

The following pasta dishes need a few fresh ingredients here and there, but that doesn't make them difficult to prepare. Our tips above can all be used just as well and are based on ingredients you probably already have at home anyway.

Do you have any other questions? What's your favorite recipe for quick and sophisticated pasta dishes? Let us know in the comments!

Published on March 31, 2019