Italian food with its rich flavours and fresh pasta is the ultimate comfort food. Learn how to make pasta and create authentic Italian dishes.
In North America, we tend to think of Italian cuisine as one homogeneous menu, dominated by mountains of white pasta blanketed in rich and heavy sauces with a side of ubiquitous garlic bread, or cheese and meat-laden pizza pies. This impression could not be further from the truth.
In fact, Italian food is quite diverse and is fiercely driven by region and season. A dish that may be considered a specialty in one city or town may be unheard of elsewhere in the country. Talk about the ultimate locavore diet! Another thing that gives Italian food worldwide appeal, for both those who eat it and those who prepare it, is its relative simplicity. Often made with only a handful of ingredients, true Italian dishes rely on the freshest produce and best quality ingredients cooked simply.
At home, seek out the best olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and Parmesan cheese you can afford. Cooking in true Italian style, a little of a good ingredient will go a long way in helping the dish taste its best, and you will end up using less to achieve a wonderful flavour, which in turn can shave off unnecessary calories.
This spring, do as the Italians do and invite some friends around for a long lunch, open a bottle of heart-healthy Chianti wine, and savour some of the following recipes. Mangia, mangia!
- Peppers with Anchovies and Capers
- Chickpea Soup with Clams and Pasta
- Pizza alla Napoletana
- Spinach and Ricotta Malfatti
- Almond Granita with Rosemary Honeyed Oranges
Homemade pasta 101
There are as many different ways to make pasta as there are ways to use it! Making your own pasta may be a little more time consuming, but the payoff is tastier than boxed pasta, and with just four easy steps, it is well worth the effort.
Place 2 cups (500 mL) whole wheat flour in mound on clean work surface. Make well in centre of flour. In small bowl, whisk together 3 large eggs and 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt (optional). Pour egg mixture into well and, using fork, stir egg mixture, gradually working in more and more flour until it is all incorporated. With your hands, form dough into ball. To flavour pasta, stir a couple of tablespoons fresh chopped herbs into flour before adding egg mixture. Try parsley, thyme, rosemary, or sage.
Place dough in airtight container and cover with lid. Let dough sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Dough at this point can also be refrigerated for 24 hours.
Divide dough into 2 pieces. While working with 1 piece at a time, keep other piece in airtight container. If rolling dough by hand, place on floured work surface and roll until about 1/8 in (0.25 cm) thick. Trim and cut into noodles or sheets and then coat in a little extra whole wheat or semolina flour and set aside on baking sheet. Roll out second piece of dough.
If rolling dough with pasta machine, set pasta machine on widest setting and feed dough through rollers. Fold lengthwise into thirds and rotate 90 degrees. Repeat rolling, folding, and rotating another 2 times to increase dough’s elasticity. If dough gets sticky, dust with some more flour. Roll pasta through machine, decreasing setting one notch at a time, until pasta is very thin (setting 5 or 6) or desired thickness is achieved. Trim and cut into noodles or leave as sheet, dusting with flour and setting aside as described above. Fresh pasta is best cooked the day it is rolled out.
Fresh pasta will absorb a lot of water when cooked; therefore, it is important to cook in a generous amount of boiling water. Stir to ensure that noodles don’t stick together. Pasta is done when noodles are cooked through but not soft or mushy. In Italy, pasta is perfectly cooked when al dente, which means “to the tooth.” Fresh pasta also cooks quite quickly, about 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness. Remember, if transferring cooked pasta directly to pan to toss with sauce, transfer about 1 minute before perfectly cooked—pasta will finish cooking with sauce.