On World Pasta Day, these are the key secrets to making the perfect dish

25th Oct 18 | Lifestyle

Prudence Wade gets the top tips from cooking duo Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi.

Fresh pasta cutting in machine.

Even the most inexperienced of cooks will know how to whip up a bowl of pasta.

However, with the rise of the healthy eating movement, many people are shunning pasta because of its mixture of carbs and gluten. Pasta sales in the UK are in decline, and our reticence to boil up some spaghetti is something Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi are looking to rectify.

The couple met back in 1997 and since then have set up two restaurants and a cookery school together, fusing Giancarlo’s Italian and Katie’s English approaches.

As it’s World Pasta Day, the duo are set upon extolling the virtues of pasta, so we headed to La Cucina Caldesi for some of their top tips and things to remember…

You’re probably cooking it wrong

Giancarlo cooks his fresh pasta before cooling it in the oil
Giancarlo cooks his fresh pasta before cooling it in oil (Prudence Wade/PA)

We hate to break it to you, but chances are you’re missing a crucial step when cooking pasta. Regardless of whether it’s dry or freshly made, surely you cook it in salted boiling water and serve immediately, right? The secret, say the Caldesis, is to let it cool then reheat it.

Katie explains: “If you cook pasta, leave it to go cold, then eat it either cold or reheated, you absorb less calories because some of it turns into resistant starch.”

Giancarlo’s top tip is to cook fresh pasta for one minute in boiling water, then cool it down in a tray with a generous glug of sunflower oil. “If you wash the pasta in cold water it absorbs and expands too much, becoming wishy washy,” Giancarlo says.

Once you’ve cooled down the pasta properly in the oil, Giancarlo says, you can reheat it or store in the fridge or freezer for later: “Put it in clingfilm in a big lump, then in a closed container and into the freezer. This will last for six months, then you put it back in the boiling water to cook for two minutes and the oil comes off.” It will last three or four days in the fridge.

The sauce takes time

Giancarlo Caldesi making tomato sauce
Giancarlo making his perfect tomato sauce (Prudence Wade/PA)

When making a basic tomato sauce for pasta, few of us dedicate the time and effort it deserves. Giancarlo says: “The real secret is to make sure the onions are really well cooked and look blonde – not black, we’re not making an onion chutney.”

So how can you tell when your onion is cooked? “When it’s changed colour, smells nice and sweet and doesn’t sting your eyes – then it’s ready,” Giancarlo says.

For his classic tomato sauce, he cooks onions in oil, pepper and garlic, adds plum tomatoes (because chopped tomatoes don’t break down as well), simmers for around 40 minutes and adds salt to taste. It might be a little longer than you’re used to cooking your pasta sauces, but it’s worth it for how rich it becomes.

There’s no need to be scared of oil…

Before she met Giancarlo, Katie laughs at how English her approach to making pasta sauces was: “I used to put in a tiny bit of oil because I thought it was expensive and fattening, then I would cook the onions and they would burn around the edges because I didn’t have the patience. At the end you’d be able to feel the crispy onions and I only cooked the sauce for about 20 minutes.”

Even though Katie was initially outraged by the amount of oil Giancarlo used, she realised he was right. “I learned that if you don’t have enough oil, you can’t cook the onions for long enough to get the sweetness out of them to balance against the acidity of the tomatoes,” she says.

Katie also takes issue with how olive oil has been vilified in the media. “The Mediterranean is still the healthiest diet in the world,” she says, “so I refuse to believe it’s toxic in any way.” Not only that, but adding glugs of oil to your pasta sauce will make it taste “luscious and delicious”.

…or salt for that matter

Pasta GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Another thing many of us are increasingly scared of is salt. However, Giancarlo is adamant that it’s necessary for cooking the perfect pasta.

“Cooking pasta in plain water won’t work,”he explains. “Think of boiling the pasta in sea water, more or less.” And you needn’t worry – this is just to help with the cooking, the salt won’t end up on your plate.

Even though you should be glugging oil into your sauce, don’t bother splashing it into your pot – an old wives’ tale which supposedly stops your pasta from sticking. Giancarlo says: “The oil will just sit on the top, it doesn’t do anything for the pasta.”

It is possible to make perfectly good gluten-free pasta

As much as he loves pasta, Giancarlo undoubtedly has a tricky relationship with it – in 2011 he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and soon after he found out he had severe gluten intolerance.

He’s since given up wheat, and managed to reverse his diabetes. But he’s had to find gluten-free alternatives for his favourite dishes, picking up a few tricks for making it taste just as good as the real deal.

Giancarlo admits “it’s not easy”, but his recipe is fairly simple to follow. For the pasta dough he uses 175g of tapioca flour, 50g of buckwheat, 50g of gluten-free plain flour (warning against using grainy rice flour), along with 175g of eggs, a teaspoon of xantham gum and one tablespoon of olive oil. You’ll have to measure the ingredients meticulously, otherwise it won’t work.

“Rolling gluten-free pasta is a problem because it lacks elasticity,” explains Giancarlo. That’s why he advises using the machine instead of doing it by hand. His final top tip? “This pasta has to cook for one minute 40 seconds or under two minutes, because otherwise you spoil it.”

The Long and short of pasta
(Hardie Grant/PA)

The Long and the Short of Pasta: A collection of treasured Italian dishes by Giancarlo & Katie Caldesi is published by Hardie Grant, priced £20. Available now.

© Press Association 2018