How can you figure out the right sauce for your pasta?

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Everyone in the world should have some pasta in their pantries. Well, I know, I am Italian and I am not impartial at all, but pasta means family, home, love. Yet, if you are not Italian may ask yourself what you can do with pasta! How can you cook it? Interesting questions! I am here to help you with finding out some answers.   

Let’s pretend you have just come back from a holiday in Italy (you might have been here, actually) and you have bought some pasta in a local food shop, or at the airport.

If you have travelled around Tuscany, Firenze, Siena, Lucca, Pisa, the famous seaside resort Forte dei Marmi, you might have bought one of the most typical kind of pasta from the peasant tradition: the pici.

An odd name for a very simple type of pasta. Thicker and larger than spaghetti, pici pairs well with strong, natural, plain, but not very elaborated tastes.

You can make whatever you like with pici: everything will turn out right. It is a rustic pasta made of flour, water, salt, and oil (eggs- it is a variation of the traditional recipe) typical of the rural peasant tradition. Yet so simple, it is enhanced by any kinds of sauce, as long as the sauce is tasty, of course!

First of all, what is pici from Tuscany?

I have never made it myself, but you should do like this (I am not still sure about the quantities):

  • Knead vigorously some flour type 0 with water, and a pinch of salt for about 10 minutes;
  • Let the dough rest for 30 minutes and then roll it out until 1cm thick pasta sheet. Then cut it into 1 cm stripes and roll them with the palm of your hands as thin and even as possible (at the beginning it is not very easy, you just need a bit of practice);
  • Place the pici onto a linen or cotton tea-towel, and sprinkle with durum wheat semolina to prevent the pici from sticking together;

How can I store dry pasta?

Dry pasta can be stored for a few years in a dry cool place in your pantry. It may last beyond the best-by date, but you have to be sure whether it is still good or not: if it looks good, and has a nice odor and taste, you can still eat it.

Dry pasta is very stable, and its shelf life depends on a few factors: suitable ventilation, low humidity, and cleanliness. Dry pasta is very poor in water, so bacterial growth is hindered. So, store pasta, and also rice or flour, airtight boxes or containers.

Most of all, whether the pasta bag is open or still sealed, store it into an air tight container in a cool dry place in your pantry. 

Tuscany box from Eattiamo.com
Unboxing Tuscany from Eattiamo.com

Now, how can I cook it?

The average serving of dry pasta is about 80-100g for men, and 60-80g for women.

Do you want to cook pasta perfectly? Here are a few hints.

  1. Both long and short pasta must be cooked in plenty of water: 1 liter or 1.5 liter per 100gr of pasta;
  2. Bring the water to a rolling boil in a high stockpot. Leave enough space at the top because you do not want the water to bubble up and overflow;
  3. Only when the water boils, add the salt, about 10 gr per liter of water;
  4. Add pasta and bring the water back to a rolling boil. Lower the heat: the water has to boil gently;
  5. Stir pasta with tongs every few minutes so it won’t get sticky;
  6. Drain pasta “al dente” because it is easier to digest as it has soaked up less water;
  7. Cook pasta according to the package directions (start timing only when the water returns to a rolling boil), but always taste pasta before draining it: if the core is still white, pasta still needs 1 or 2 minutes to be done;
  8. Pasta is done: season it to your taste.

Let’s have a look at the sauces…a few pieces of advice among numberless choices

The simplest and most traditional: tomatoes and basil. As easy as a pie.

Ragù makes your pasta even more tempting.

Not to mention the genuine and timeless “cacio e pepe”. See the company Eattiamo 😉

Pici with cacio e pepe
Pici with cacio e pepe from eattiamo.com

Well, what about carbonara? It pairs well with long thick pasta shape, such as that from Tuscany (that you may have bought during a holiday in Italy!). Don’t forget Amatriciana sauce, you might like it a lot!

A few other sauces.

Pasta with breadcrumbs (it is a very old recipe from the poor rural tradition where the breadcrumbs used to replace cheese)

  • 80-100 g of the soft inside of bread
  • Extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Chili powder

In a saucepan with a little oil, sauté the crushed garlic and the chili powder over medium heat. Increase to high heat and add the coarsely diced for inside of the bread; sauté until golden brown. Cook pasta al dente in plenty of salted water and pour into the pan with the sauce. Toss evenly and serve hot. 

For a richer taste you may also sauté some bacon or anchovies before adding the soft inside bread.

Pasta with lentil ragù (it is a nice sauce which will make the most demanding partners’  mouth water)

  • 120g of soaked lentils (or 50g of dried lentils);
  • 100ml tomato puree 
  • 2 leaves of laurel
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 1/2 celery stick
  • 1 small onion or a  shallot
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, chili flakes

In a pan sauté the finely diced onion, celery and carrot over medium-high heat for a few minutes or until the onion has turned golden (be careful not to burn it). Add the soaked lentils (if you use dry ones, soak them overnight), the tomato puree, and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes, when pasta is done, drain and pour it into the pan. Toss well over high heat and serve hot.

Pasta with artichoke, bacon, and pecorino cheese

  • 3 fresh or frozen artichokes
  • 50 of high quality bacon or guanciale
  • 1 small white or yellow onion
  • 1/2 glass of white wine or broth
  • Shavings of pecorino romano or parmigiano cheese

Clean, steam and finely slice the artichokes. Put them into a bowl and cover with cold water and some lemon juice. In a pan sauté the diced onion and the bacon or guanciale for 5 minutes; season to taste-be careful because guanciale is quite peppery on its own.

Drain, delicately squeeze the artichoke slices to eliminate all the water and add them to the pan. Cook for 15 minutes and simmer with white wine until reduced, season with little oil. Cook pasta al dente and pour it into the pan, toss evenly and top with shavings of parmigiano or pecorino cheese.

Pasta with ricotta cheese and walnuts (cream may replaced ricotta cheese for an even more scrumptious dish!)

50-60g of walnuts (or hazelnut or pistachio nuts)

300g of cow’s milk ricotta (or 100-120g of cream)

2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil

Salt, pepper and nutmeg (extra)

In a large nonstick pan gently warm the ricotta cheese with the oil over very low heat, add a ladle of the pasta cooking water and stir until well combined with a wooden spoon or plastic whisk: ricotta (or cream) should get creamy. Season with salt and pepper, add the coarsely ground walnuts and stir well; add some freshly grated nutmeg to taste.

Cook pasta al dente and pour it into the pan, toss evenly for about 1 minute. Garnish with some walnuts and serve very hot.

Pasta with parmigiano and nutmeg sauce (my favorite one!)

100-120gr of cream

70g grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

20g of butter

salt, pepper, nutmeg

Melt the butter in a nonstick pan, then add the cream and cook over low heat. Stir well and add freshly grated parmigiano cheese. Combine all the ingredients with a wooden spoon; add a tsp of pasta cooking water if the sauce gets too thick. Generously season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook pasta al dente and pour it into the pan, toss evenly and serve very hot.

Pasta with speck, ricotta cheese (or cream cheese) and walnuts: you will bring a gust of mountain to your table.

50-60g of walnuts (or hazelnut or pistachio nuts)

300g of cow’s milk ricotta cheese

70g of diced or sliced speck

2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil

Salt, pepper and nutmeg (extra)

In a pan with little oil, gently warm the coarsely ground walnuts and the ricotta cheese over  very low heat. Season with salt and pepper; combine well all the ingredients and add the speck. Season with more salt and pepper, but be careful because speak is quite salty on its own. Cook pasta al dente and pour it into the pan, toss evenly to combine and a little cooking water if the sauce gets too thick; it should be creamy, and silky (without any lumps). Serve very hot.

Pasta black truffle sauce (very toothsome indeed)

70g of black truffle

3 tbs of extra virgin olive oil 

40-50g high quality organic butter

1 clove of garlic

Salt and pepper

50g of mascarpone for a very scrumptious irresistible sauce

First of all, clean your truffle. Rinse it under cold running water and gently brush it with a medium soft brush to remove any dirt. Dry and thinly slice it with a truffle slicer (a small hand-held mandolin). In a pan over low heat, melt the butter with the oil. Peel away the skin of the garlic and  remove its germ. Add the garlic clove to the pan, sauté until golden brown, and discard it (in this way the taste of garlic will be delicate). Remove the pan from the heat and add the slices of truffle.  Save some slices to garnish. Before removing from the heat you may add the mascarpone cheese to your taste. Mascarpone makes this dish definitely more toothsome. Stir gently until well combined. Cook pasta al dente in plenty of salty water; drain and pour it into the truffle sauce. Toss well and add some cooking water if the sauce gets too thick; season with salt and pepper. Garnish with the remaining truffle shaving and serve very hot. Enjoy this wonderful dish!

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