Stanley Tucci has 5 rules for making perfect pasta

Spaghetti with bolognese? Don’t do it, says actor and TV host 

by LEBAWIT LILY GIRMA 

ARE you debating swapping Thanksgiving turkey for a more affordable and hassle-free alternative, like one in five Americans this holiday season? It might be time to consider pasta. 

And Stanley Tucci has just the product for you. 

The Italian-American actor, who went deep into the world of pasta during the three seasons of his hit CNN show “Searching for Italy”, is getting into the pasta business. His “S. Pellegrino’s Taste of Tucci” holiday pasta meal kit went on sale on Nov 7. 

The kits feature a recipe beloved by Tucci: Gnocchetti con salsiccia e broccolini, a rich sausage and greens dish starring tiny, dry shell-shaped pasta from Sardinia. 

The packages aren’t cheap — they cost US$120 each, plus shipping (in the US) — but include all the ingredients to make a meal for six. The gnochetti package comprises products sourced from Italy, such as the pasta, pecorino romano and extra virgin olive oil, and everything else you’ll need, including the sausage and fresh broccolini, fennel seeds and a white wine and chicken stock mixture, which come packed in an insulated box. There’s also a cook-along video that walks you through making and plating the dish, which Tucci says should take a maximum of 20 minutes. 

“It’s a classic southern Italian dish, but without tomato — a lot of southern Italian dishes have tomato — and it’s a wonderful dish,” Tucci says about the gnochetti, speaking with Bloomb- erg over zoom. “Really simple to make, incredibly hearty — and it’s centuries old.” For vegetarians, the sausage can be omitted, “and it’s still delicious”, says Tucci. 

The actor, who is planning more pasta collaborations with S. Pellegrino, likes to remind people that he’s not a professional cook. But having spent several months eating around Italy, the TV host has learned a few things about pasta.

Here he shares five important rules he’s learned about cooking one of the world’s most popular foods. 

1 Understand al dente 

A lot of people are guilty of overcooking pasta, says Tucci, and it counts as a cardinal sin in the world of Italian cooking. “It should be al dente, which means ‘to the teeth’, so it should have the slightest little bite to it.” 

He points out that almost all packages have recommended cooking times on them and they’re generally accurate. “Of course it’s really up to you how much you want to cook it,” Tucci admits. “But don’t overcook it.” 

2 Spaghetti Bolognese — don’t do it

“In Italy it’s very specific. Each pasta holds each sauce differently,” admonishes Tucci. “In England, people say let’s have spaghetti bolognese. In Italy, if you were to say let’s have spaghetti bolognese they’d throw you out of the restaurant — you just don’t do it.” 

A chunky bolognese is best with a short pasta shape that holds the sauce in its crevices; it’s also good with long, flat noodles with maximum surface area, like tagliatelle or pappardelle. “Tagliatelle is the classic pasta you would have with bolognese, because of the way it holds the pasta.” 

3 Elevate under-the-radar dishes 

For Tucci, some of the best pastas are the simple, regional ones, that don’t have the star-studded fame of cacio e pepe or carbonara. One that he particularly loves is spaghetti alla nerano, a combination of fried zuccini slices with the pasta, basil and Parmigiano Reggiano. 

“It’s a very old recipe that supposedly fishermen’s wives used to make,” he says. “Absolutely delicious.” 

The dish hails from Campagna, where fishermen had to sell most of their catch rather than take it home; plentiful, cheap zucchini became the star of many dishes. Tucci recommends making it with different short pasta shapes, like gnochetti  sardi and orecchiete. 

4 Learn from Italian elders 

Tucci reveres the British site Pasta Grannies, which highlights short segments of people between the ages of 80 and 100 cooking around Italy. “They make their pasta and they make sauce, and they go to all different regions. It’s fascinating,” says Tucci. 

The show focuses on finding women who make pasta by hand and keep those dying traditions alive. The recipes they share are wide-ranging, like maccheroni with wild boar ragu from Tuscany, artichoke lasagna from Sardinia and crostoli, a flaky flatbread from Urbania. 

5 Know your olive oil 

One of Tucci’s favourite ingredients is olive oil. Often, he says, containers that claim to contain Italian olive oil isn’t really from Italy. 

“It may be bottled in Italy, but it might be a combination of oils from Tunisia, from Greece, from Spain, from wherever,” he notes. “Make sure that you’re getting something that is a real Italian product — if you want Italian olive oil. If you don’t want Italian olive oil, there’s great British, French, Greek. Tunisian olive oil; it just depends on your taste but you want to make sure that you’re getting something that’s a pure product.” 

The best way to confirm where your olive oil is from? Look it up online, says Tucci. Bloomberg 


  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition