Italian chef shares common pasta mistakes

How to prepare pasta like a pro: Italian chef reveals the biggest mistakes home cooks make – and the right sauce for each shape

  • Italian chef share common mistakes home cooks make when preparing pasta 
  • Andrea Tranchero revealed the dos and don’ts of cooking the authentic dish
  • Mistakes include breaking dried spaghetti before it boils and adding oil to water 

Italian chef Andrea Tranchero has shared the most common mistakes home cooks make when preparing pasta, including breaking spaghetti before it boils and adding olive oil to the cooking water.

The executive chef of Barilla – who worked in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world – revealed the dos and don’ts of cooking the authentic dish.

‘The perfect pasta starts with the pasta. A delicious Italian dish needs a good quality base and so it’s very important that you choose a premium, good quality pasta to cook with,’ Mr Tranchero told Daily Mail Australia.

‘When cooking the pasta, make sure you follow the instructions on the box for a perfectly al dente taste – not crunchy, but firm with a little bite. 

‘Cooking water should be salty like the sea – I recommend approximately 7g of salt per litre of water – and boiling with big bubbles before you add the pasta in.’

Italian chef Andrea Tranchero (pictured) has shared the most common mistakes home cooks make when preparing pasta

What every pasta shape looks like: Long spaghetti goes perfect with light sauces, ribbons such as pappardelle pair perfectly with ragu, while short pasta is great for baked pasta dishes

The perfect sauces for each pasta shape

LONG: Balance long thin strands of pasta such as spaghetti, linguine or fusilli with light sauces

RIBBONS: Pair thicker, flatter ribbons such as tagliatelle, pappardelle and fettuccine with more robust sauces such as bolognese and ragu

SHELLS: Heavy cream or meat sauces

SHORT: Penne, rigatoni, farfalle and fusilli are fun and versatile shapes perfect for pasta salads, baked dishes and with chunkier sauces

TWISTS: Lighter, smoother sauces such as pesto go perfect with fusilli, strozzapreti, caserecce and gemelli

FILLED: Serve ravioli, tortellini or cappelletti with a light butter or oil sauce

MINI SHAPES: Orzo, fregola and risoni is perfect for hearty soups, stews and pasta salads

One minute prior to being cooked, transfer the pasta to the sauce to finish off cooking, adding a spoonful of the cooking water. 

‘The heat of the pan will help the pasta take on the delicious flavours of the sauce, and the reserved cooking water will help the pasta and sauce combine,’ he said. 

Here, Mr Tranchero listed the common errors when preparing the Italian cuisine – and how to avoid it.

Adding olive oil to the pasta cooking water

Many of us assume it helps prevent our pasta from sticking together but it wastes our precious olive oil as it doesn’t mix with water.

‘It does nothing. The oil floats to the top, while the pasta sinks,’ he explained.

In any bolognese, ravioli, or marinara, Mr Tranchero said olive oil is your secret weapon but it’s best saved until the end.

‘Oil and water don’t mix so adding it to the cooking water will just coat the pasta, making it harder for it to bind well with the sauce. Finish off your dish with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil for a rich, authentically Italian flavour,’ he said.

Breaking spaghetti before you boil it

Don’t ever break your spaghetti before boiling it because long pasta is supposed to wrap around your fork

Don’t ever break your spaghetti before boiling it because long pasta is supposed to wrap around your fork. Spaghetti can hold sauce more efficiently but if you break it in half, you’ll have shorter strands which makes it harder to eat.

Italians eat spaghetti by twirling forkfuls of long strands in a way that it doesn’t slip off or let sauce drip from it.

Mr Tranchero said if you need to break long pasta to fit it in your only small pot, invest in a bigger pot.

Rinsing cooked pasta

This only washes away the starch on the pasta which actually helps to make your finished dish silky and smooth.

The executive chef of Barilla has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world

The perfect wine pairing with each pasta

Chef Andrea Tranchero said Italian food and wine go hand in hand, you really can’t go wrong. 

Ideally, your choice of wine should be guided by the flavours in the dish, especially those in the pasta sauce. Also keep in mind the strongest ingredients in your dish, like your cheeses, meat or any heavy seasoning.

For tomato-based dishes, like your classic spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, and lamb ragu opt for medium-bodied red wines to balance out the acidity in the tomatoes and stronger flavours in the meat. An Italian chianti, merlot or sangiovese are all delicious complements.

With any creamy, cheesy or rich sauce, like that found in carbonara, I love a glass of full-bodied white wine. Try matching your meal with a pinot grigio or chardonnay, both are especially tasty if the dish is quite creamy.

For seafood, pesto and vegetarian dishes, try any light-bodied white wine for a delicious balance of flavour. Vermentino or local Sauvignon blanc are two of my favourites.

Not combining the sauce and pasta when serving

A lot of people don’t finish off cooking their pasta and sauce together in the pan and allowing it to absorb the beautiful sauce flavours.

Throwing away all the pasta cooking water

Adding some of the pasta cooking water into the sauce will help the pasta and sauce combine nicely.

Waiting to serve your pasta

Don’t leave your pasta sitting on the bench, serve it immediately while it’s hot and glossy for the best result.

Not using fresh herbs

Herbs like parsley, mint, rosemary and basil can add so much more flavour and vibrancy to a home-cooked dish. Be sure to include them in your spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne or salad instead of the dried alternative.

Thinking the more complicated, the better

Simple and quick recipes can be just as (if not more) delicious than any heavily involved recipe that uses a long list of ingredients. Go back to basics and think classic combinations like pasta, olive oil, tomato, herbs and seasoning.

The Italian chef said you should never rinse your cooked pasta under tap, and always add some of the pasta cooking water into the sauce as it will help the pasta and sauce combine nicely

Not heating up the pan or pot properly

Many home cooks will add veggies to an oiled pan, or pasta to a saucepan before they’re hot enough. Take a few minutes to allow time for heating and to help avoid serving a soggy or poorly cooked dish.

Skimping on the seasoning

Don’t just add your salt or other seasonings at the very start or end of the cooking process. Taste as you go and adjust seasoning as needed whilst building your dish for a more flavoursome finish.

Overcrowding the pan

Give your veggies or meat enough room to move around to avoid slowing down the process. You can always prepare in batches to ensure your dish cooks evenly and without turning to mush.

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