“No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention,” Christopher Morley once said. And as it’s the month of love, here’s to a week dedicated to one of the most romantic countries on earth! Italy has sex appeal in spades – think fashion, football, ice cream, scooters, castles, beaches, lakes, and its three very macho and temperamental volcanoes. Stir some of that passion into your home this month – Ciao Italia!
Ever wanted to know exactly how to cook the perfect pasta? Scroll down…
All pasta is not equal! Choose a brand with a good reputation and only buy pasta made in Italy.
Use a big pot. Pasta needs to move freely as it cooks.
Use plenty of water. For 500g of pasta, you should use at least six litres of water.
Add salt to the water. Pasta needs salt for flavour. Add salt to the boiling water and make sure it has dissolved before you add the pasta.
Bring the water to a full, rolling boil before adding the pasta. When you add pasta to water that is not yet boiling fast, it releases natural starches, which act like glue and you get soggy, sticky pasta.
Stir the pasta as soon as it’s in the water. And stir again a few times during the cooking process.
Do not add oil to the water. Oil coats the pasta, and prevents sauce from sticking to it when you serve it.
Never overcook pasta. Pasta needs to be cooked so it’s still firm when bitten. This is called “al dente”. Follow the cooking time on the packet but also check your pasta. Break it – if the inside is still whitish it is not yet cooked. But be ready for action. Drain pasta as soon as the inside has lost its whiteness and remember there will be a small amount of carryover cooking between the time you remove the pasta from the stove, and combine with the sauce.
Save a little pasta water. Scoop a cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta and keep it aside to add to your sauce in case it is dry.
Get the sauce onto the pasta immediately after you drain it. Noodles cool down fast and start sticking to each other without a sauce to keep them apart.
Do not cook two different kinds of pasta in the same pot. Their cooking times will be different – and it looks a mess!
Pasta comes in different shapes and sizes to suit different sauces. Thicker, heavier pasta is better for thicker heavier sauces, while fine pasta suits thinner, lighter sauces. Keep a few boxes of pasta in the cupboard for those emergency meals.
Pasta in 10…
Susan Greig never ceases to amaze with her incredible cooking courses and kitchen savvy, this time proving that even a snappy meal can be beyond delicious with this Pasta with Pea Pesto and Baby Beetroot recipe.
300g frozen peas
2 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 T single cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
40g parmesan cheese, grated
200g cooked small beetroots, halved
50g almonds, finely chopped
150g cooked green beans
- Cook the tagliatelle in lightly salted boiling water for 8-10 minutes until tender, adding a third of the peas for the last 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the remaining peas with the oil, garlic and seasoning in a covered pan for 5 minutes, then add the cream and watercress and cook for a further 2 minutes. Blend with 125ml of the pasta cooking water until smooth. Season to taste.
- Drain the tagliatelle, and then toss with the sauce and parmesan, green beans, almonds and beetroots.
- Garnish with shaved parmesan.
- Go to Susan Greig’s website for more delicious culinary secrets.
Sensational Tomato Sugo
For a real, rich Italian tomato sugo that takes you straight to a back street in Rome, do this:
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot.
Simmer a few cloves of garlic (simply cut in half) until soft and clear.
Throw in a few cans of tomatoes and as many fresh chopped tomatoes as you want.
Add a couple of tablespoons sugar, a dash of vinegar and salt.
Reduce the sauce until it smells Italian, adding more sugar, vinegar or salt to taste.
Throw in a handful of fresh basil towards the end, and continue to let it reduce until thick and pungent.
Invented by a Sicilian monk about 100 years ago, Amaro Averna is an Italian bitters that is still trending today – and as we all know, bitters are IN! Amaro Averna is often drunk neat or on ice, but it makes a supreme cocktail. Here are some contemporary Averna cocktails from Adriatic Food & Wine.
Averna Red & Salty
1 part Amaro Averna
2 parts Blood Orange Juice
- Add the Amaro, red orange juice and crushed ice to a blender and give it a whizz for a minute or two. Wet the rim of your Margherita-style glass with this mixture and gently dip it into salt. Pour your cocktail mix into the glass and enjoy!
1 part Amaro Averna
4 parts vodka
2 parts lemon juice
1 part sugar syrup
- Decant all the ingredients into a shaker with crushed ice. Shake well and then pour the mixture into a tumbler. Garnish your cocktail with a cherry and a slice of lemon; it makes a perfect pool-side sipper.
- Splash about a finger of Amaro into a champagne flute and top off the glass with the best Italian bubbly. Elegant and simple, this spritz is popular with everyone.
1 part Amaro Averna
2 parts Cachaça
1 small Lime
- Cut the lime into 8 pieces and chuck them into a tumbler. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the lime and swirl it around a bit. Add crushed ice, the Amaro and the Cachaça (a spirit popular in Brazil) and stir well. This is definitely a party cocktail!
The inside scoop
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy homemade ice cream and the addition of nougat creates an enticing texture combination of gooey-and-crisp almond nut,” says Jackie Cameron of Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine.
Image courtesy Jackie Cameron / Kate Martens
6 Egg yolks
¼ cup castor sugar
1 litre cream
15ml glucose syrup
1 vanilla pod, split in half and seeds removed
2X 110gr nougat, cut in small blocks
- Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Allow the cream, glucose and vanilla seeds to come to the boil. Take off the heat, add the nougat blocks, and allow the nougat to semi–melt and all the flavours to come together.
- Add the warm cream mixture to the whisked egg yolk mixture, combining well.
- If an ice cream machine is not available place the chilled mixture into the freezer. Whisk every 30 minutes until the mixture is frozen to allow for a light and fluffy ice cream. Otherwise follow manufactures instructions if an ice cream machine is available.
Recipe courtesy Jackie Cameron @ jackiecameron.co.za
Visit these best of bloem winners for a real Italian experience:
Best Italian restaurant: Bella Casa Trattoria
Bottles stores for Italian wines: Delta Liquor Store