Cover your mouth when you cough, don’t respond to a paragraph long text with a single emoji, and never double dip in the communal guac. You won’t find these life rules written in any book, but failing to abide by them just ain’t cool.
The same goes for cooking pasta like an Italian. I recently traveled to the land of pizza and Nutella, and despite spending two weeks gorging myself on copious amounts of caprese salads, gelato, and wine, I did manage to learn a few of the unspoken rules of cooking and eating the quintessential Italian dish- pasta.
These ten commandments aren’t in many cookbooks, but, like most good things, they have been passed down from one adorable Italian grandmother to the next. Which brings us to another unwritten life rule: grandma always knows best (especially when it comes to food).
1. Thou shall not treat all pasta shapes equally.
When it comes to Italian cuisine, the only thing worse than a bad wine pairing is a bad pasta and sauce pairing. As a rule of thumb, short, tubular shapes with ridges (like penne or rigatoni) are great for soaking up the flavors of a heavy ragù, while long, thin pastas work best with lighter sauces like marinara or pesto.
2. Thou shall salt the pasta water thoroughly.
Don’t be afraid to shake that salt shaker. Not only does the salt season the pasta, it also prevents it from becoming a sticky and gummy mess. And go ahead and taste the water. It should taste like that time you accidentally swallowed a mouthful of ocean water while on Spring Break in Florida (minus the seaweed).
3. Thou shall not put olive oil in the pasta water to keep it from sticking together.
Like your Lisa Frank stickers from second grade, it’s okay for pasta to stick. It means that the sauce will have something to cling to and won’t slide right off. And don’t even think about rinsing the pasta after cooking. This will just rinse off all the starch, leaving you with a watery, slimy mess.
4. Thou shall not overcook thy pasta.
A little chew never hurt nobody. Pasta should be al dente (“to the tooth”), and never musciad. Pronounced MOOSH-AD, this is an Italian slang word meaning mushy aka how you feel the morning after after an epic Thirsty Thursday. Check out this article for more easy pasta-making tips.
5. Thou shall not believe that marinara is the only pasta sauce.
*cue Aladdin music* There’s a whole new world out there, folks. Check out this recipe or this one to get out of your red sauce rut. (Or, if you really can’t part with your beloved marinara, ditch the jarred stuff and try this recipe).
6. Thou shall not overwhelm the pasta with more parmesan cheese than sauce.
Aim for snow flurries, not a full-blown blizzard of parmesan. And never, ever put cheese on a dish containing seafood. There’s no real explanation for why Italians have this no-cheese policy, but just know that it’s downright sacrilegious and will guarantee that you get the smallest slice of tiramisu.
7. Thou shall always twirl thy pasta, never cut.
Sure, cutting your angel hair might be less messy, but getting a little sauce on your mouth is part of the genuine ~pasta experience~. And please don’t be the dork that shows up to the table with this self-twirling fork contraption. With a little practice, you can master the art that is pasta twirling and slurp your spaghetti with the best of ’em.
8. Thou shall not enjoy pasta without a side of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
CARBS ON CARBS.
9. Thou shall not consider Olive Garden’s pasta as authentically Italian.
Sure, their fettuccine alfredo and breadsticks are on fleek, but please don’t assume that all Italian food tastes like good ol’ OG. That’s an insult to Italian grandmothers everywhere.
And the tenth, and probably most important commandment of all…
10. Thou shall never, ever, EVER insult nonna’s cooking.
No matter what, you shut up, eat it with a smile on your face, and tell her it’s the best damn thing you’ve ever put in your mouth. Because if it came out of an Italian grandmother’s kitchen, it definitely is.