Google and you'll quickly discover that Marco Polo brought pasta back to Italy from China, that adding oil to the water stops pasta from sticking, and that rinsing cooked pasta "removes the starch". Mamma mia! Porkies all.
The best brands of dried pasta are Italian, no question. Generally speaking, chunky sauces suit chunky pasta and creamy, simple or smooth sauces suit ribbons and strands, but for most of us there are no hard and fast rules.
For 500g of dried pasta, bring 5 litres of water and 1 level Tbsp salt to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the pasta all at once, pushing long strands (if any) under the water with a wooden spoon, and stir from time to time to break up clumps and prevent sticking.
Cook for the recommended time. To tell if the pasta is done, break a piece in half. When the last trace of white in the middle has gone, it is ready.
Drain in a colander, return to the pan with 2 Tbsp of the cooking water and keep warm. Add the sauce, toss and serve immediately.
Some of the most delicious pasta dishes are the simplest. Try these combinations tossed through hot pasta: hot cream, crumbled blue cheese, black pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese;
finely chopped garlic, parmesan, rocket leaves and extra-virgin olive oil;
torn fresh basil leaves, freshly cooked prawns and finely chopped garlic and chilli;
flaked tuna, a few chopped black olives, a finely chopped tomato, parsley and olive oil;
pesto and extra parmesan.
Today's recipe was probably invented in the 1950s by Sandro Petti, an Italian restaurateur. Late one night, so the story goes, when he'd run out of fresh ingredients, a table of hungry diners urged him to scratch up any old rubbish, puttanata in this context meaning worthless, from the Italian for prostitute. So Petti whipped up his store-cupboard special, known colloquially as "tart's spaghetti".
Whatever the truth of the tale, this earthy dish is lip-smackingly good. I find that adding lemon zest and juice to the sauce makes it really sing.
SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA
2 Tbsp good olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 heaped Tbsp chopped capers
8 anchovy fillets, chopped
100g kalamata olive
zest and juice of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper
2 heaped Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Cook pasta in a large pan of rapidly boiling salted water until done.
Drain, return to the pan with a little cooking water and keep warm.
While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat.
Add anchovies and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, until they seem to "melt".
Add garlic and chilli and stir for another minute.
Add tomatoes, olives, capers and lemon zest and juice.
Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for a good 10 minutes.
Season with black pepper (you may need a little salt).
Add sauce to pasta, toss gently, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
- © Fairfax NZ News