Seven Top Tips: How to cook pasta like a real Sicilian Godmother

When I got married, I was given a 35 person dinner service which had belonged to my husband’s grandmother. Not just a 35 person dinner service, but a nine-course 35 person dinner service.

“I’m sorry a couple of items have got broken over the years,” my mother-in-law, The Godmother, apologised.

A couple of pieces missing? Did she actually think I might notice?

This was one size of plates. There were six other sizes, not including the pasta dishes.
This was one size of plates. There were six other sizes, not including the pasta dishes.

I piled all the towers of variously sized plates in my antique dresser, then added soup tureens large enough to use as bath tubs, bowls you could live in, and oval platters big enough to serve Silvio Berlusconi roasted on a spit. The dresser bowed under the weight, and the shelf inside turned into a kind of wooden hammock.

Of course, The Godmother thinks nothing of cooking up meals for 35 people at a time. The indispensable course of any Italian meal is the pasta, naturally.

The Godmother has a saucepan large enough to boil a dead body in hydrochloric acid and then bury the gold fillings. It is so large that, when she is carrying it, it looks as if the pot has grown two feet and is waddling along all by itself. Of course she has never really boiled a corpse in it. That would taint the taste of the pasta.

So, here we go, seven tips on how to cook pasta properly, like a Sicilian Mother. Or even Godmother.


1. Pasta cannot cook if it is packed in the water like vegetables. I has to be able to swim about freely like goldfish in a tank. You need a bigger pan than you think.

2. Make sure you salt the water enough. Otherwise the pasta will taste sweet and go mushy.

3. Do NOT add a dash of oil to the water. Whoever invented this ridiculous idea was a struggling and dishonest oil salesman.

3. You may only add the pasta to the water when it is bubbling like a volcano in full eruption.

4. Stir the pasta immediately, and at least 3 times during the first minute. Keep stirring it lovingly at least once a minute throughout its brief cooking time to make sure it doesn’t stick together.

5. One minute before the cooking time is up, fish a piece out and bite it. The centre should offer a little bit of resistance to the teeth. Italians call this “Al dente” which means “to the teeth”. If it has gone beyond this point and is soft throughout, do not serve it to any Italians: they will think you are trying to kill them. Seriously, they call this kind of pasta “glue” and they think it causes bowel cancer.

6. Once it is cooked, you need to drain it and get the sauce on it instantly. If there is any delay, pour on some olive oil and stir it, to stop it turning into wallpaper paste. Then buck up and get the sauce ready.

7. Italian etiquette decrees that you start eating your pasta the moment it is in front of you. You do NOT wait till everyone has a full plate in front of them.


The Godmother's spaghetti saucepan
The Godmother’s spaghetti saucepan



24 Comments Add yours

  1. onomatopoeicbliss says:

    #3, #4 👍
    So, do they throw it against the wall to see when it is ready there, or is that just an IA thang?


    1. No, throwing pasta about is strictly forbidden!
      Though I do know a chef who told me the chef who trained HIM used to throw pasta at the wall as a reproach to his failing trainees. If it sticks, it is already “scotta” or overcooked. See #5 re bowel cancer!!!


  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent advice and one I will follow from now on. I always add oil to the water but never knew why so from now on that idea is out the window.


    1. I have to say, I was always suspicious of the oil thing myself. It just floats on the water, looking rather useless. And of course once I met The Godmother I learned it is *strictly forbidden*!


  3. ..say, no sale??

    Like your dishware….plain and the food will add the colours.


    1. See #2 – you need HEAPS of sale!
      And here in Sicily, it has to be Sicilian sea salt from Trapani (or Marsala if you’re a real connoiseur) 🙂


  4. miekemunte says:


    I¹m a Belgian woman, a teacher ( Dutch and French in secondary school). I love cooking and I love Italy. I don¹ t remember how I got to your blog, but I need to tell you I¹m always looking forward very much to your new posts. You have an absolutely GREAT pen, and ohhhlala, the British humour in combination with Italian pathos… I¹ve just read your post on the tips how to cook pasta. It¹s the introduction, the lines where you write about your dinner service given by your mother in law which made me laugh out loud. I¹ve been thinking many times I would like to write you a few lines, and thus now I did ( a good reason to postpone correcting the pile of exams waiting on me), and yes, I do prefer to cook for 35 people, or 100 if you want, rather then to sit behind my desk for hours. Well, luckily we are all different, if not, it would be a grey life. I have a question, I run a small catering business as a side job, I have a Facebook page: Œla cuisine sur la colline¹, and from time to time I post some pictures, or other things. I would love to post your text, would that be a problem? Of course I would mention your name. I¹ll wait on your answer before I do so. In the meantime, I forward your blog sometimes to people, like to an English man living in Catania.

    Please keep writing,

    Best regards

    Mieke Den Haese

    Op 20/06/14 11:37, The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife schreef:

    > The Sicilian Housewife posted: “When I got married, I was given a 35 person > dinner service which had belonged to my husband’s grandmother. Not just a 35 > person dinner service, but a nine-course 35 person dinner service. “I’m sorry > a couple of items have got broken over the years,” my” >


    1. Hi! I am really glad you like my blog and yes, please go ahead and post the text on your Facebook page.
      I just “liked” your page – there are some interesting liinks there!


  5. Susan says:

    Some great tips, thanks!


  6. Ah so I have been doing something right all along. I have never ever put oil into the boiling pot of pasta being cooked, and I always receive the evil eye from my (Spanish) friends because of that, even though my pasta has always turned out fine. I will remember to stir it lovingly next time, because I usually stir it in a rush and don’t often think of the love and care I am supposed to pout into it. And yes, I know, I have a food blog and I know that cooking with love makes a huge difference…. Have a great weekend!


    1. I learnt about loving the food in italy, and when I think of all the really great cooks I know, you can see it! They treat the food with affection from start to finish. That’s something I need to learn myself, as I usually do everything in a uish and treat it as just another job… 😦


  7. Damn, must buy a bigger pot and stop adding oil!! Thanks for the tips 🙂


  8. Pecora Nera says:

    So funny and true, I tried putting olive oil into the boiling water and was severely reprimanded by Mrs Sensible.


    1. Have you noticed that on some brands of pasta they actually print “DO NOT ADD OIL TO THE WATER” – presumably as a stern warning to naughty foreigners. 😀


  9. barbedwords says:

    Good to hear I cook my pasta like an Italian except for one thing – the salt. Italian food is much too salty for me and I’m always amazed to see friends adding more salt at the table.


    1. Oh that’s interesting. I am a salt maniac too. And even more so since living here. Maybe the hot weather makes us sweat it out too fast????


  10. Lucy says:

    Never knew “al dente” meant “to the teeth”. Thanks for the tips – I love good pasta.


  11. neonanomaly says:

    Hilarious and so true! I’m still terrified of cooking pasta for Italians – though there is no “glue” in my house. We are often reprimanded for eating our pasta ‘too al dente’, which apparently is also damaging to the digestive system…


    1. Goodness, I had no idea of that particular danger! I must be extra vigilant in future!!!


  12. Loved your post…thanks for the smile! 🙂


  13. Izzy says:

    Hello me dear! I was told to always save a little bit of the pasta cooking water back with the drained pasta so it doesn’t turn into a sticky blob, and also to add the pasta into the pan with the sauce and mix it about really well in there. According to various Mammas. Sei d’accordo?!


    1. Yes, definitely d’accordo! And if you think the pasta may have to sit around for a few minutes before it gets eaten, you drain and put on the sauce a few minutes before the past is really cooked, and let it finish cooking in the sauce.


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