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?
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.