These expert tips will help you achieve the perfect balance of flavours.
14 May 2013 - 11:15 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Cooking pasta

When cooking pasta the golden rule is to have the water rolling and boiling. This prevents the pasta sticking together. Also add plenty of salt to the cooking water. Drop in pasta, stir once then cook for seven minutes (for fresh pasta) or according to packet instructions for dried pasta.

Fresh pasta

Fresh pasta shouldn't be cooked to the 'al dente' stage. As it is egg based, it needs to be well cooked and not have any resistance when you bite into it but be silky smooth.

Avoiding sticky pasta

To avoid sticky pasta cook in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water (5 to 6 litres of water to every 500 grams of pasta). Giving the pasta a good stir in the first couple of minutes is also crucial to help avoid sticking.

Al dente

Al dente, literally "to the tooth", does not mean sticking to the tooth, rather that the pasta provides a little resistance when you chew it. The only way to tell is to taste the pasta as you cook it - don't rely on the packet instructions.

Pasta shapes

Thin, delicate pasta shapes are lovely combined with thinner, delicate sauces. Tubular or irregular shaped pastas are best with chunky sauces (so the sauce can get caught inside the shapes). Small pasta shapes, such as risoni, are great in soups.

Fresh versus dry pasta

Similarly to pasta shapes, the choice between fresh and dry pasta is more about matching flavours and textures than about which is superior. Fresh pasta is well suited to delicate sauces, but its primary purpose is to make tortellini, ravioli and lasagne sheets.

Tearing basil leaves

Tear basil leaves with your fingers rather than chopping with a knife. The steel of a knife oxidizes the basil and will turn the cut edge of the basil black.

Peeling and de-seeding tomatoes

To peel and de-seed a tomato, score a small cross in the base of the tomato with your knife, then plunge in boiling water for one minute, refresh under cold water (running water seems to make peeling easier too), cut in half and scoop out the seeds with a dessert spoon.

Re-hydrating dried mushrooms

Dried mushrooms, such as porcini, are a great store cupboard standby. Soak in boiling water for 30 minutes to revive them. Strain the soaking liquid and add to the dish for extra flavour.

Red wine or white wine?

The general rule with wine is that red wine, with its richer and deeper flavours, is a great accompaniment to red meats, while white wine works well with white meats (fish and chicken). However take time to experiment, there are plenty of exceptions to the rules and with wine the rules are definitely made to be broken.