The original fast food, pasta is one of the quickest, easiest meals to whip up - on the table from whoa to go in less time than it takes for the pizza delivery boy to arrive!
With a few pantry staples and some fresh herbs from the garden or window box, virtually any seafood can be made into a delicious, healthy pasta sauce.
Pasta comes in two basic forms: dried (more typical of southern Italy) and fresh (more common in the north). Dried pasta is best used for more robust, often tomato-based, sauces while fresh pasta is used for more delicate sauces. Only buy dried pasta made from durum wheat (a particularly hard variety of wheat). The best is extruded through bronze rollers, which leave a rougher, more porous surface for the sauce to cling to, it’s often labelled ‘artigianale’. Fresh pasta is now widely available from speciality shops, or you can make your own.
Different pasta shapes suit different types of sauces. Short pastas, such as penne, rigatoni, or conchiglie (shells), are great with a textured sauce as they trap the chunks of sauce inside their hollows. Long pastas, like spaghetti and fettuccine, are best with a smooth sauce, such as a simple tomato sauce or olive oil, garlic and parsley. Tiny pasta shapes such as risoni or stellini add texture to soups.
Pasta should always be cooked in plenty of salted, rapidly boiling water: 4 litres of water, at least, for every 500g of pasta, with 10g of salt per litre. Cook dried pasta until it’s al dente (literally ‘to the tooth’), which means it still has some bite to it. Fresh pasta cooks a lot quicker than dried, usually taking just 2-3 minutes to float to the top of the water, the sign that it’s ready. Once the pasta is cooked, act quickly: drain in a large colander (reserving some of the cooking water to moisten the sauce if need be), toss it through the sauce so that every strand or piece is coated, and serve immediately in heated bowls.
When Italians eat pasta, that’s what they eat, not a plate of sauce with pasta swimming in it. The pasta is the food and the sauce simply a dressing to flavour it. Australians have become used to pasta served with a lot more sauce than would ever be served in Italy; try it the Italian way, then by all means, adjust to suit your own taste.
Create your own combinations such as:
- Pan-fried sardines broken up through bigoli (thick, hollow wholemeal pasta) with olive oil, garlic and parsley
- Diced prawns, tomato, onion, mint and olive oil tossed through fregola (Sardinian pasta shaped like large couscous)
- Sliced raw sashimi-grade tuna tossed through trofie, strozzapreti, or other twisted pasta shapes with shaved radicchio, olive oil and a touch of chilli