La Bella Figura: How To Eat Pasta the Italian Way

Whether it’s in the way they dress, the way they behave or the way they eat, Italians approach life in a way that is completely unique. They live their lives according to unspoken rules – simple everyday commandments that guide their actions and create a seemingly effortless sense of style, character and purpose. Nowhere is this more evident than in Italian eating rituals. Each dish is prepared using techniques that have been passed down through generations, each meal blending personal taste with age-old traditions. And what could be more traditional than pasta? From finding the perfect pairing to understanding the importance of texture, we reveal how to eat pasta the Italian way.

Less Oil, more Salt

When preparing pasta, the water that is cooked in is just as important as the pasta itself. Italians add large amounts of salt to their pasta water, often explaining that the water should ‘taste like the ocean’. When in the water, the pasta absorbs the salt in a more subtle way, meaning that you won’t be overpowered with salt in the way you would if you poured it over a cooked dish. In contrast, you should never add oil to pasta water – despite common assumptions it doesn’t stop pasta from sticking together, and can even prevent the sauce from properly sticking to it.

The Importance of Texture

The Italians call it musciad, we just call it a mushy mess – nobody wants to eat overcooked pasta. Pasta should always be cooked al dente (‘to the tooth’), meaning it should be slightly firm and chewy. The best way to do this is by bringing the water to the boil before adding the pasta, ensuring it is in contact with the water as little as possible, and keeping the temperature high throughout, never dropping to a simmer. Also, it’s worth noting that most packaging directions advise cooking for too long. For perfect al dente pasta, cook for around two minutes less than suggested.

The Perfect Pairing

Whether they’re tubes or spirals, thick or thin, all types of pasta are different. Therefore, it makes sense that each different type of pasta has its own merits, and needs to find the perfect partner to bring out its strengths. In Italy, it is a point of pride that almost everyone knows how to prepare a proper pasta and sauce pairing. Generally, short, tubular shapes with ridges, such as penne or rigatoni, are ideal for soaking up the flavours of a heavy ragù. Meanwhile, long, thin pastas are more suited to lighter sauces, for example pesto and marinara.

The Pasta is Primo

On the subject of sauce, here’s one rule that is often overlooked by chefs all over the world – the pasta is always the star of the dish. This means that, while it’s important to make a good sauce, its main function should be to compliment the pasta, not the other way around. Avoid drowning the pasta in sauce, and instead let the sauce simply accentuate the taste and texture of the pasta. If the dish does seem too dry, just add a bit of salted pasta water to give it added moisture.

Handling Leftovers

You’ve found the perfect pairing, cooked the pasta perfectly and even added the correct amount of sauce, but unfortunately your eyes are bigger than your stomach and you’re left with plenty of uneaten pasta. While it’s tempting and easy to reheat your leftover pasta as a snack at a later time, we can guarantee it won’t taste the same. Instead, make what the Italian call a pasticcio – literally translating as ‘a mess’. Leftover pasta is baked with other ingredients such as mozzarella, vegetables, cured meats and boiled eggs, creating a delicious new dish and making good use of uneaten food.