Secrets to perfect pasta from an Italian chef

Pairing pasta and sugo explained

As we continue to celebrate the 4th International Week of Italian Cuisine, we keep exploring the multifarious universe of cooks, cookbooks, cooking, pots and pans. 

We sat down to talk about pasta with Pugliese chef Massimo Bruno from Cucinato – Italian Culinary Studio in Toronto.

Chef Massimo Bruno
Chef Massimo Bruno

How did your culinary adventure start in Canada?

I came to Canada in 2001. As I was missing home in Italy, in 2005 I decided to start a culinary tour of my native Puglia in order to spend more time there. To promote the tour I began hosting an Italian Supper Club to share with people the great food and stories from my region. The events soon became very popular that I decided to keep organizing them! Eventually this led to my collaboration with (Tuscan olive oil and wine importer) Gaia Massai and (food marketer and writer) Mark Cirillo to create Cucinato.

Tell us a little more about Cucinato.

Cucinato is our attempt to bring together all elements of the Italian food experience – the passion, the creativity, the expertise and the intuition – that makes Italian Cuisine famous all over the world.

Pasta is such a staple food in Italian cuisine and it comes in all shapes and forms. Would you like to share with us your secrets to hit the perfect pasta dish?

First of all, if your pasta is swimming like in a swamp or you have a pool of sauce left in the bowl after the pasta’s been eaten, you are guilty of over-saucing. Sugo is a condiment, not a soup!

ragù alla bolognese
ragù alla bolognese

Something we don’t really right on this side of the pond?

Spaghetti bolognese is a common North American dish you won’t find in Italy, because the noodles are too light, delicate and thin to carry a ragù. Italians pair this hearty sauce with egg noodles (tagliatelle or fettuccine) that are heavier and more coarse in texture (so the ragù adheres better).  Spaghetti on the other hand pairs with lighter sauces: al pomodoro, alle vongole, aglio e olio.

farfalle zucchine
farfalle zucchine

And what about tortelli, ravioli, agnolotti, tortellini?

The whole point of a stuffed pasta is the delicious flavour packed inside, so you don’t want to smother it with a heavy sauces that will compete for your attention. That’s why tortellini is typically served in a light brodo and ravioli is paired with simple, uncomplicated sauces such as ai funghi, pomodoro or burro.

orecchiette with spinach
orecchiette with spinach

Can you tell us more about the idea that to each sugo, its type of pasta ?

Italian dishes tend to be traditional and regional – and pasta and sauce pairings are no exception. So if you’re making a pasta with rapini you’ll go with orecchiette because that’s the classic dish from Puglia. Like bucatini all’amatriciana and spaghetti alla carbonara – typical dishes from the region of Lazio. When in doubt these standards, are the best place to start.

Here in North America the cooking water never seems to be salted enough.

Right! My suggestion is: salt your pasta water generously They say pasta water should taste like sea water. Salt is what gives the pasta flavour, so don’t skimp out! If quanto basta isn’t a precise enough measure for you, Cucina Italiana Magazine suggests 7 grams of salt per litre of water for every 100 grams of pasta.

Pappardelle al ragù
Pappardelle al ragù

Any other tips for us?

Heat your sauce in a skillet while the pasta is cooking. A minute or two before the pasta is cooked, scoop it into the sauce with a slotted spoon or pair of tongs, and gently stir. Why? So pasta absorbs the flavour of the sauce and it sticks to the noodles.

Tell us a little bit about your Christmas program at Cucinato.

We have a number of events for the Christmas season which culminates with a four-course festive dinner prepared by Venetian chef chef Stefano Agostini who, with the help of baker Caterina Vitale, has put together a very special menu of seasonal favorites. As a special consideration to our friends at ScuolaScuola we added a second night after the first dinner sold out in a matter of days.  

For more information and to reserve your place at the Cucinato Christmas Dinner on December 7th, contact info@scuolascuola.com


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