For our December pasta spotlight, we sat down with Domenica Marchetti. Domenica is the brains behind the popular food blog Domenica Cooks, and author of six books on Italian cooking. Since it’s clear she knows a thing or two about pasta and Italian food, we asked Domenica to share some of her secrets to perfectly cooked pasta, how to keep pasta “light”, and her summers spent in Italy. Read on to see what she had to say, and make sure to check out her blog for news on her upcoming cookbooks!
1. We know from reading your blog that you grew up in an Italian family where food was a big part of your family life. Did you and your mother share any special traditions in the kitchen growing up?
Not surprisingly, most of our traditions centered around food. I learned how to make and shape pasta by helping my mom do it. But my absolute favorite tradition took place in the days leading up to Christmas, when my mom, my sister and I held late-night cookie-baking marathons. We would stay up, often past 2 a.m., making dozens and dozens of cookies and watching old Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger movies, which always seemed to be on—Follow the Fleet, The Gay Divorcee, Swing Time. Thinking about it makes me so nostalgic!
2. Your book, The Glorious Pasta of Italy contains dozens of pasta recipes and tips on how to cook pasta properly. Can you share some of the tips and tricks you learned about cooking pasta?
There’s a misconception that fresh pasta is always better than dried. Not true. You can’t really compare the two. For example, I always make lasagne with fresh noodles. Because there are so many layers, the pasta has to be delicate so as not to weigh it down. On the other hand, I love spaghetti alla carbonara, but I would never make it with fresh noodles. It needs the sturdiness of a good dried noodle to stand up to the vigorous stirring required to properly make the creamy egg-based sauce.
Some other tips for getting perfectly cooked pasta include:
- Use more salt than you think you should when salting your pasta cooking water. Otherwise the finished dish will lack flavor.
- Always reserve some of the starchy cooking water to help bind your sauce to the pasta.
- Finally, do not overdress your noodles. Toss the noodles lightly with sauce and spoon just a little more on top. Here’s a blog post I wrote about properly cooking and saucing pasta.
3. How does pasta eaten in Italy compare to how Americans consume pasta?
The two biggest differences are portion size and quantity of sauce. People are baffled that Italians can eat pasta twice a day (not everyone does anymore but plenty still do) and not gain weight. The fact is that portions are usually much smaller. A typical portion of pasta in the U.S. (depending on where you go) would serve two or more in Italy. Also, we really oversauce our pasta here in the U.S.
4. What are some of your favorite ingredients to whip up a quick pasta meal with?
If I have olive oil, garlic, some good anchovies and hot pepper I can have an excellent sauce in less than the time it takes to boil water for the pasta. I also love making quick sauces with seasonal vegetables—quickly sautéed peas in spring, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers in summer, and mushrooms in fall.
5. At Pasta Fits, we focus on keeping pasta healthy by pairing it with lean meats, proteins, and try to steer away from heavy sauces. Do you have any tips on how to keep pasta “light”?
Use olive oil rather than butter to sauté your vegetables or meat. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. A splash of wine or broth is a good way to punch up the flavor of a sauce without making it heavy. I love nut-based sauces like pesto Genovese or walnut pesto. If you want to enrich a sauce without adding too much heft, stir in just a dollop of good ricotta or a splash of cream. Don’t forget freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top!
6. We’re so excited that the holiday season is in full swing! Do you have any special food traditions for Christmas or New Years?
We always have seafood on Christmas Eve, though we don’t count the number of dishes. Our first course is always Fedelini with Tuna-Tomato Sauce. The sauce is ridiculously simple, just crushed tomatoes, olive oil, anchovies, parsley, capers, peperoncino and good tuna sott’olio. Everything goes into the pot at the same time and is brought to a gentle simmer. So easy and truly delicious.
7. Finally, all of the pasta recipes you share on your blog look absolutely delicious! Can you share one of your favorite pasta recipes with us?
Here’s one of my all-time favorites: pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and cream. It’s technically a late-summer dish, but you can find decent cherry tomatoes in the supermarket all year long. Roasting them intensifies their flavor. I make this often. It’s a great weeknight dish. Buon appetito!
Domenica Marchetti is the author of numerous books on Italian home cooking, including The Glorious Pasta of Italy, The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, and Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian. Her seventh book, Preserving Italy: Recipes for Canning, Curing, Infusing and Bottling Italian Flavors will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in June. When Domenica is not in her kitchen or at her computer, she leads culinary tours in Italy’s magnificent Abruzzo region. For recipes and more information visit her website at www.domenicacooks.com.
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