Warning: The opinions expressed here are not meant to offend anyone. Food is a very personal thing for people and our taste buds and preferences are all different. Thank goodness because life would be rather boring otherwise!
You’ve been warned, so here I go!
I learned to prepare pasta from native Italian friends. Once you’ve cut your teeth on an authentic dish or two, it is impossible to go back to the spaghetti I grew up on. Perhaps you remember…a clump of overcooked spaghetti noodles on a plate with a ladle or two of sauce plopped on top. Oh, and don’t forget a few shakes of powdered cheese from a shiny green can. I am now a pasta snob.
10. Canned cheese. Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano is delicious. It’s nutty, slightly salty flavor is the perfect complement to most pasta dishes. Note that I said “most.”
9. Parmesan and seafood. A dear friend from the Puglia region was horrified when I attempted to add cheese to the top of his homemade Spaghetti Frutti di Mare. Where he came from, this was a serious faux pas. I was duly schooled and henceforth refrained from serving Parmesan as an accompaniment to any pasta and seafood dishes. He was not clear on why this was a grievous act, but this dish is certainly delicious on its own pure merits!
8. Crappy pasta. There are plenty of good choices in the grocery store. I will not disparage any particular brands out there, however I will tell you that I serve DeCecco. If you can’t find that in stores, you could substitute with Barilla. (Remember this is my opinion only and not based on scientific fact. Nor am I paid to talk about any particular brand.) I lump all gluten free and whole wheat pastas into this category. Again, only because I think the taste and texture cannot compare to the real thing.
7. Jarred sauce. I’m sure there are plenty of good jarred sauces. But making pasta is so fast and simple, I don’t see the need for buying a prepared sauce. Olive oil, fresh garlic, and crushed red pepper tossed with hot pasta hits the spot just as nicely as a red sauce I simmered for hours.
6. Cold pasta. If you’ve spent the time preparing a beautiful pasta dish, it should be eaten while hot. So why would you transfer piping hot pasta into a cold bowl? (Sorry folks…I guess this should be its own peeve…pasta should be served from a pasta dish and not on a plate.) Heat your serving bowl or pasta dishes so that all the heat is not sucked out of your meal before your first forkful!
5. Unsalted water. My apologies to anyone who needs to limit their sodium intake. Pasta requires salt water if you really want it to taste good.
4. Colander to plate. Once your pasta is drained, it should be dumped immediately into your wide saute pan which already holds its accompaniment. This way the pasta soaks in all those flavors. Finish it off with any last minute seasoning. Add a bit of pasta water if its too dry. Then portion it out or transfer it to your serving dish.
3. Leftovers. All the Italians I know measure and cook only the amount of pasta per person required for the meal. Leftovers do not fit into their small refrigerators and why on earth would you reheat pasta? That leads beautifully into my number 2 pet peeve.
2. Overcooked pasta. This is the main reason I rarely order pasta when I go out to dinner state side. Except for a very few small trattorias, I am usually disappointed by pasta cooked past al dente. When I cook pasta at home, I sample the noodles fairly often toward the end and remove them before quite ready. They will finish cooking before arriving at table, trust me!
And Bradley Nierenberg’s number 1 pasta pet peeve?
1. Drowning pasta. In Italia, pasta is the star; the topping is NOT! As stated in number 4, finish your pasta off in your saute pan to marry it to the topping an bring it to the perfect doneness. Then serve it! There is no need to heap a pile of sauce on top.