In Italy, pasta is serious business. Other than delicious wine, pasta is perhaps the most important aspect of the quintessential Italian meal.
We like our pasta like we like all things indulgent: rich and eaten in small portions. Here in Italy, it’s rare to find an authentic Italian menu featuring huge bowls of pasta as a main course. We’re more likely to consider pasta il primo, or the first course of a multi-course meal. The best pastas are served hot, saucy, and perfectly al dente.
Because few things go better with authentic Italian wine, we eat our fair share (and then some!) of amazing pasta in the Candoni De Zan family. Here are some tips from our kitchen to yours for composing the perfect plate of pasta.
Pick Your Pasta Carefully
Here in Italy, we swear by freshly made pasta. Fresh-made pasta imbues the finished noodles with a bit of texture, helping them hold onto sauce. When we don’t have time to make our own we visit one of our town’s family-owned stores that still make fresh pasta daily by hand. Of course, lots of people don’t live near a pasta-making nonna, so thankfully there are plenty of commercial pasta on the market that pair wonderfully with a delicious sauce. Today it’s even possible to find whole grain and gluten-free pasta! (We’ve been known to make a “healthy” pasta dish or two to eat alongside a glass of organic red wine!) Be sure to choose the pasta shape based on what your finished sauce will be like. Thin noodles and corkscrews are best for fresh tomato-based or light sauces. Thicker ribbons, shells, or tubes work well with richer, creamy sauces and ragus.
Decide on Your Sauce
The sauce you choose is totally dependent on your tastes, what’s in season, and what’s in the other courses you’re serving. Light, olive oil-based sauces are great for summertime and complementing freshly cooked produce. Rich, hearty sauces – with meat or without – are a good time-saver if you want to start the sauce early and end up with deep flavor.
Boil Your (Salty!) Water
In Italy, we’re not afraid of salt! Fill your largest pot with water and a lot of salt; don’t worry, your final pasta will be perfectly-seasoned, not overly salted. Once your water is boiling, add the pasta, give it a stir, then leave it alone and allow to boil for exactly as long as the package directions. You want to strain the pasta once it becomes al dente (“to the teeth”) which means slightly underdone in the middle. But wait! Don’t pour the water out before you remove a few cups of starchy pasta water to use in your sauce. We do this with a glass measuring cup with a handle but you can ladle yours into a bowl, too.
Finish the Pasta
While your noodles are boiling, get your sauce started in a large saucepan. If you made it earlier, simply heat it back up; if you’re composing a new sauce, start with olive oil, then sauté your ingredients like garlic, vegetables, and/or seafood. Once you drain your noodles, immediately pour them into your saucepan to coat. A little at a time, add in some of that beautiful reserved pasta water to bring together your sauce and help it adhere to the noodles. This is the Italian way!
Serve your perfect pasta on a warmed plate with a sprinkle of hard cheese like Parmigiana on top. Don’t linger – Italians always serve pasta when it’s hot! Be sure to choose a wine that complements your pasta course: Italian reds like chianti pair wonderfully with rich, meaty sauces; whites such as pinot grigio are ideal with lighter, seasonal pasta.
What’s your perfect plate of pasta?
Share your culinary masterpiece with us over on the Candoni Wines Facebook page! We eat with our eyes first, after all…
Barbara Candoni De Zan