Every day, millions of us do the same thing. We take a packet of pasta from the shelf, we tip the shapes into boiling water and we make something to eat.
For Italians, pasta is more than just a food, it is a symbol, a flag, a way of life and culture. I am neither Italian, a scholar, or a chef. However, I have, as a food writer and home-cook living in Italy and surrounded by good teachers, spent the last 16 years in Rome learning about, cooking and eating pasta.
Allocating sauces to shapes is a minefield, as most sauces are polygamists, pairing beautifully with lots of shapes. But here are some suggestions for much-loved packets:
Broccoli with anchovy crumbs
Sardines with fennel and anchovy crumbs
Courgettes, egg and parmesan
Pesto alla genovese
Leeks, cream and saffron
Peas, bacon and ricotta
Baked macaroni with meatballs and aubergine
Arrabbiata – tomato and lots of red chilli
Sausage, porcini mushrooms and leeks
Norma – tomato, aubergine and salted ricotta
Simple tomato and basil sauce
Carbonara – egg, guanciale and pecorino
Fancy making your own pasta? Here’s how to make a basic flour and water dough…
This is the mothership recipe for a hard wheat flour and water dough, suitable for all flour and water pasta recipes, such as pici and orecchiette. The first time you try this, treat it as a game, notice how the coarse semola and water comes together, how dry and scraggy it feels to begin with, then how it softens as you knead. Weather, humidity, the flour, how dry your hands are, all play a huge part in this; the first step is to start to notice. Also identify your work-spot, keeping in mind you need a kneading area (wood is ideal because the surface friction does some of the work) and a spot to spread the shapes once you have made them. The proportions are 2:1, so for every 100g of semola, 50ml of warm water.
To make pasta for four, you need 400g of semola and 200ml of warm water. Working on wood is best as it creates heat and friction, but you can also work in a bowl, or in a food processor. Working on a board, tip the semola into a wide mountain and add the water bit by bit, pinching it into the flour so it doesn’t run away. Once you have added all the water, bring it into a rough ball, then knead, in the most comfortable way for you (I use the heel of my hand to fold the dough over itself and then push and rotate). Avoid adding extra water until you have kneaded for a while. If still it feels dry or flaky after 2 minutes, a few drops or light spray of water on the board may well be enough.
Knead for at least 6 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and silky – when you hold it against your cheek, it should feel lovely. Rest under an upturned bowl for 30 minutes before shaping according to the recipe.