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How NOT To Cook Pasta
What follows is a gallery of culinary horrors: Pasta dishes gone horribly wrong. They may look good, even tasty to you, but believe me, no true Italian would ever prepare, or even eat, a dish of pasta like the ones you are going to see.
Cooking pasta is quite simple. We already gave you the step by step guide to cooking true Italian pasta.
The basic caveat and most common error is this: you do not cook pasta, serve it on the dish and then pour sauce over it. No. You don't. What you want to do is to mix and stir pasta and sauce while cooking. This is not only a matter of taste - cooking pasta and sauce together make the pasta absorbs the sauce and the flavor - but also a very practical one: if you put the sauce on top of pasta and don't eat quickly, pasta will become an inedible glue. Not to mention the fact that your spaghetti will look raw and uncooked.
Ok, let's begin!
Ok. That on the left should be a carbonara. Right? Wrong. What is that white stuff? Cream? Who puts cream on carbonara? Cheese (pecorino, or parmigiano if you can't find it), egg yolks, cured fatty pork, and black pepper, those are the ingredients for a true carbonara. Carbonara is considered a traditional, poor cuisine dish, not fancy novelle cousine. An important point is that you mix the pasta with the sauce, not drown the spaghetti in it.
Look at the image on the right: is that a soup? And the red stuff? Tomato? Seems like tomato. Well, no tomato on my carbonara, please! Not only is the spaghetti swamped in sauce, it also looks raw. This means that the spaghetti hadn't a chance to absorb the sauce. I cannot even think of how that stuff can taste.
This seems to be a favorite in American cuisine: Spaghetti and meatballs. Ok, so you have probably heard about ragu, the kind of sauce we Italians make with tomato and minced meat. The point is: the meat remains minced. We don't prepare meatballs with it. A ragù is usually made by adding meat to a soffritto (a partially-fried mixture of chopped onions, celery, carrots, seasonings, etc.), adding tomatoes and other flavourings. and then simmering for a long time. But no meatballs. Think about it: you are supposed to eat pasta and sauce with a only fork, how can you swallow an entire meatball?
This image on the left is simply a nightmare. Meatballs again, yes. But there's more wrongness in that picture. Look at the spaghetti. Spaghetti are called "long pasta" for a reason; cutting them in shorter bits is plain wrong, we don't do that in Italy. If you want something shorter, we have short pasta for that, like rigatoni or fusilli. If you find it difficult to pick up long spaghetti with a fork, just practice. It ain't that difficult and it's much easier than eating chinese with chopsticks. Yes, you may shower yourself in sauce the first few times, but sometimes it happens to us Italians too, so no shame there!
Spaghetti as a fancy snack. Should I really comment? Plus, the pasta looks raw again. And to have the spaghetti stay in place like that, the cook must have surely have used some kind of glue, like egg yolk. Or maybe he just let the pasta cool down without sauce and the noodles glued themselves to each other. Either way: no, that is not true Italian spaghetti.
And what about these spaghetti alla carbonara? They are wrong on every level. First: let's hope thati this picture comes from a photo set than from a restaurant table. Everything seems so fake, the guanciale looks raw (and it doesn't really looks like guanciale at all, actually), the parmigiano just lays there. Every Italian knows that the secret of carbonara is mixing, not just placing the ingredients one over the other. Otherwise, you won't have a true carbonara.
And finally: This is how a genuine Italian spaghetti dish looks like! Notice how the pasta and tomato sauce are mixed togheter. The spaghetti has absorbed the sauce and look like they have been flavoured from the inside. The pasta is not sparkling white or yellow - a color we associate with hospital food - but has an healthy and yummy reddish look. After the pasta mixed with sauce has been served on the dish, it has been generously covered with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Notice how the cheese is melting: the pasta is hot, as it should be!
Andrea & Paolo