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Viva la pasta

Imagine being on vacation in Italy. You’ve rented a little apartment, and you’d like to do some cooking! You might even have bought an Italian-language cookbook. What are some handy things to know? 

Most Italians have a kitchen scale for dry measure, and use kilos and grams. For example, when deciding how much pasta to cook, they will typically measure out un etto* (one hundred grams) per person, which will then get cooked in a big pentola (pot) of acqua bollente salata (salted boiling water).

*Short for ettogrammo (hectogram), equal to cento grammi  (a hundred grams). To convert to and from the metric system, click here.

Let's look at how real Italian cooks work in two videos, Marino: La maccaronara and Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara -  Part 1 of 2.

In Marino: La maccaronara, Marino is making fresh pasta. He talks about the impasto (dough). But impasto can also refer to a batter, or the result of whatever you have mixed up, like a filling or stuffing. Lavorare (to work) in this context means to manipulate, to knead, to mix up, to beat, or to form. He explains:

È molto semplice: fare un impasto di acqua e farina e sale, lavorarlo almeno quaranta minuti, così la pasta è più buona,

It's very simple: make a dough of water and flour and salt, knead it for at least forty minutes, that way the pasta tastes better,

Captions 8-9, Marino: La maccaronara

Once you have kneaded it, you make it flatter and it becomes “la sfoglia”—thin and flat like a leaf (la foglia) or a piece of paper (il foglio).

E poi si fa la sfoglia con un mattarello in legno,

And then you roll out (the dough) with a wooden rolling pin,

Caption 15, Marino: La maccaronara

Adriano, nel frattempo (in the meantime), has been working on la carbonara, a favorite piatto (dish) among students on a budget, or with those who want to make something simple but tasty and nutritious. Click here for some theories on the origins of the name, or listen to what Adriano has to say about it as he cooks. Carbone means “coal,” so many people associate the name with one of the important ingredients, black pepper (pepe nero).

Per iniziare, dobbiamo fare il soffritto.

To start with, we have to sauté [the onions].

Facciamo soffriggere la cipolla, aggiungiamo un pizzico di sale.

We sauté the onion; we add a pinch of salt.

Captions 22 and 32, Adriano: Pasta alla carbonara - Part 1 of 2

Soffrigere (to sauté) is carried out at a lower temperature than friggere (to fry or deep-fry). Il soffritto is the classic beginning to cooking a great number of sauces and dishes.

The most common kinds of soffritto use: aglio (garlic), prezzemolo (parsley), and concentrato di pomodoro (tomato paste), or cipolla (onion), carote (carrots), and sedano (celery). They cook at a moderate heat in olio di oliva (olive oil) using a thick-bottomed padella (skillet).

Have fun, and buon appetito!

For more about Italian dining and cooking, see Marika spiega: Pentole e posate (Marika Explains About Pots, Pans, and Tableware). 

Learning suggestion: Look up different recipes for la carbonara in an Italian cookbook or on the Internet and try making this delicious pasta dish—or cook along with Adriano!

Vocabulary

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