Exclusive interview with Celebrity Chef Gennaro Contaldo including his top pasta tips
- Mums Tips
- Feeding the Family
- Published on Saturday, 19 December 2015 11:00
- Last Updated on 19 December 2015
- Monica Costa
- 0 Comments
It was a pleasure to interview fellow Italian Chef Gennaro Contaldo who has become a popular TV personality in the UK. As part of his work with Italian olive oil company Bertolli, Gennaro is offering cooking tips to mums to make their lives easier.
Gennaro Contaldo is not only renowned for his authentic Italian cooking and pasta perfection, but he’s also a restaurateur and mentor to Jamie Oliver. He has partnered with Bertolli to help mums reinvigorate their favourite dish with just a few simple steps and ingredients.
Q: You have lived in London since 1969. What are the biggest changes in the food culture and restaurants in London in the past four decades?
GC: It has changed a lot and all for the better! London is now one of the foodie capitals of the world and rightly so – you can find any type of cuisine and there is so much choice. Italian food has come a long way from the days of spaghetti and scaloppine served on the same plate!!
Good ingredients are easier to obtain these days and people travel more therefore have a better understanding and knowledge of what authentic Italian or other cuisines should be like.
Q: What are the top five most typical dishes / recipes from the Amalfi coast, your birth region?
GC: Good fresh fish dishes are popular like “antipasto di mare” (seafood salad), scialatielli con vongole (pasta with clams). Dishes with our famous Amalfi lemons are delicious like Mozzarella wrapped in lemon leaves. My home village or Minori is famous for Ndundari, gnocchi made with ricotta and served in tomato sauce. A simple Caprese Salad is also delicious with local tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
Q: I loved your programmes Two greedy Italians with Carluccio. But actually Italian cuisine is not about being greedy. It’s more about enjoying every mouthful and tasting each ingredient in the dishes. How have the Brits changed their eating habits over the years with such strong gastronomical influence from Italy and generally Southern European cookery?
GC: The Mediterranean diet is known to be healthy as well as being simple to cook. Pasta is one such dish which is easy, versatile, nutritious and enjoyed by most. Add some grilled vegetables and lovely salads and the need for the traditional British meat & 2 veg is being slowly replaced for lighter, less complicated meals. Don’t get me wrong though, I love a traditional English Roast with all the trimmings!
Q: You recently entered the Guinness book of record for making most ravioli in two minutes. What’s the secret for making good ravioli and what is your favourite ravioli recipe?
GC: Getting the pasta really thin and this is where a pasta machine comes in handy. Use small pieces of dough to roll out and keep the remaining dough wrapped in cling film to avoid the dough from drying out. My favourite ravioli recipe is with ricotta, lemon and fresh mint – a recipe from my home village – and served with a simple sauce of melted Bertolli with Butter, a few mint leaves and grated parmesan. Delizioso!
Q: You have a busy career now and are not just a chef but also a successful TV presenter, author and entrepreneur (restaurateur). What job do you enjoy the most and why?
GC: I love passing on my skills to the younger generation of chefs but I also like to learn from them.
Q: Is there a film featuring some delicious food that you particularly love? And Why?
GC: Big Night for good Italian food and temperament and my friend Stanley Tucci.
Q: What is the food-related childhood memory that you will always treasure and why?
GC: The smell of freshly baked bread on the day my mum made bread. Its dreamy smell used to wake me up and I would be in the kitchen in no time waiting for the first loaf to come out of the oven so I could enjoy it warm.
Q: Are your children as passionate about food as you are? Has any of them expressed an interest in becoming a chef following you footsteps?
GC: They love making cakes and biscuits and Olivia often makes her own pasta which she loves! As for becoming chefs, I don’t know, but who knows!
GENNARO’S TOP PASTA TIPS
It’s all in the water
Most people’s first mistake when cooking pasta happens before it’s even placed in the water. Often home cooks do not use enough water and forget to add salt to the water at the moment it begins to boil.
Pasta contains starch which is released into the boiling water during cooking. By having abundant water, the starch dilutes better and eventually dissolves, preventing the pasta shapes from sticking to each other and the pot.
Adding salt to the water when it’s boiling ensures it is easily distributed throughout the pot, and will be evenly absorbed by the pasta after it is dropped into the pot as well.
So, when cooking pasta, use a large saucepan and lots of water. For 100 gr of pasta use 1 litre of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt for every 1 litre of water.
Pay attention to the instructions – and the timer!
The back of the pasta packet holds many keys to pasta success! When shopping, always make sure you buy an Italian brand of pasta. This will ensure that it has been made in Italy – which is a very important detail! Italian pasta brands tend to use the best flour, and with many years of experience behind them, they ultimately make the best pasta. After all, it is the nation’s staple!
Before you begin cooking, make sure to take note of the cooking time stated on the back of the pack. Each pasta brand and pasta shape have different cooking times, so each brand will give you the optimal time for that specific brand and variety.
Cooking times on the back of the box aren’t just a suggestion. Pasta that is cooked too long becomes too soft and loses its ability to absorb the sauce well, changing the taste of the whole dish! To begin your countdown, wait for the water to boil rapidly, drop the pasta in, stir quickly, and then start your timer.
“Al dente” is numero uno!
Pasta can be cooked to several different levels of firmness; however the absolute best is “al dente,” which means slightly undercooked. The reason for this is that because it is slightly undercooked, it can be chewed for longer. This means you get to savour the flavour for longer – and your body will find it easier to digest too!
Key Things to Always Mix Into Your Pasta
Don’t discard all the water that the pasta was cooked in. After you’ve drained cooked pasta, add it to the sauce, which is still gently bubbling away over heat. Then mix it all together. As you are doing that, add some of the pasta water in with it to help loosen the sauce, which in turn ensures the pasta absorbs the sauce to the fullest and that each pasta shape is coated all over.
In order to ensure pasta remains shiny and unsticky, I stir Bertolli with Butter into each pasta dish as I mix the ingredients through. The blend of the olive oil and butter ensures the pasta remains perfect, and also gives it a lovely taste.
There’s a perfect pasta shape for each dish
Each pasta shape goes with a certain sauce; it can get complicated, but basically long pasta shapes like spaghetti or linguine go with lighter sauces and short shapes like penne with heavier, more robust sauces.
Each pasta shape is designed to absorb a certain type of sauce well. For example, thin, smooth strands of spaghetti go better with a light sauce which easily clings to the strands. Rigatoni, which are thick tubes with ridges, are best for heavier sauces like ragù which are better structured to hold the sauce.
PASTA IN BRITAIN FACTS
It’s official: pasta dishes have conquered British dinner tables! New research reveals pasta is king for modern Brits (31%), more than the combined total of traditional British favourites like a roast (21%), fish and chips (5%) and bangers and mash (5%).
However, British millennials are driving the shift from traditional British dishes to continental Mediterranean cuisine, as almost half (42%) of 25-34 year olds make this staple most often, compared to just one in five (20%) 55+ baby boomers. This more mature generation continues to hang on to the Sunday roast tradition, with more than a quarter (28%) of the 55+ age group making roast dinner more often than any other dish.
Appetite for Tuscan Travel
While a third of Brits just like to keep it simple, with (32%) opting for classic tomato and mozzarella on their pasta, nearly half of Brits (47%) report adding a twist of tricolore to their shopping baskets in the last year, as Italian staples like pesto, pine nuts, sundried tomatoes and prosciutto become mainstays in UK cupboard. But the UK’s adoration of pasta extends past the dinner table and inspires a new wave of foodie tourism, as one in three Brits claim they would undertake a pilgrimage to Italy for real Italian pasta (33%). This surpasses their desire to taste other international favourites, such as authentic curry in India (15%) or fresh paella in Spain (10%). It’s British women though who crave Italian amore more though, as almost four in 10 (39%) have Italy ‘top of the pots’, versus 28% of men.
Fading Out Fads
Not only does pasta reign supreme in the hearts of Brits but the research also revealed the UK isn’t shy about gorging on gluten. Four out of five Brits happily reported they’ve been turning their backs on recent food fads and having pasta as least once a week (80%). One in seven (15%) eats what they like, stating “life’s just too short!”
While there’s no question of how much Brits love their pasta, it’s apparent they need a bit of training in Italian pasta protocol. One in 10 isn’t aware that different pasta dishes have specific pasta shapes (10%) while almost half just cook their family’s favourite shape or guess which will work best when preparing pasta (46%). Just 13% knows the correct pasta shape to use for the pasta dish they are cooking but a staggering three quarters (74%) frequently defer to jarred sauces to pour over their pasta, rather than preparing something themselves.
More Substance, Less Style
True to the Italian way or entertaining, Brits are embracing more informal evenings at home with friends. More than one in three Brits (35%) relies on easy, familiar recipes, to prevent stress when entertaining while almost one in five (17%) prefers big family-style sharing platters, to create a familiar and casual meal with friends. Almost half of UK hosts (44%) prioritise good company over fine dining (10%) or fancy settings (8%). Just 6% cares about serving the best wine or impressing guests with their wine knowledge and almost a third (32%) believes it’s most important to spend more time at the table with your guests than slaving away in the kitchen.
However, also like the Italian mamas, it’s the women of the household that are responsible for hosting, as more than a quarter of British men (26%) say they never entertain friends.
The Simple Life
Bucking the gastro trends of recent years and expensive kitchen kit, half of Brits (49%) are happy with the basic kitchen gadgets, relying just on vegetable peelers and garlic crushers for a helping hand. Only 6% of gadget-obsessed guys believe that the better tech they have in the kitchen the better cook they are, while one in 10 (8%) has all the kit but never uses it!
A fifth of home cooks believe that simple is best, and gadgets just over complicate cooking (17%), while an ambitious 5% like to get really hands on, not using any gadgets or shortcuts at all in their kitchen prep.
To learn more about Gennaro’s mid-week meal inspiration and top tips or to try the perfect pasta for yourself, visit www.bertolli.co.uk
Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums