Too much pasta is never basta (translation: enough) if you’re Giada De Laurentiis. While the budding chef was growing up in Rome, her grandfather taught her how to cook authentic Italian meals. Decades, multiple TV shows, bestselling cookbooks, and a Las Vegas restaurant later, De Laurentiis still keeps his instruction in mind.
We recently chatted with the Food Network star at an event celebrating her new collaboration with Williams-Sonoma. The chef shared her tips for making perfect pasta, her worst cooking mishap, and the one food she never eats.
The Feast: What are the most common pasta-making mistakes?
Giada De Laurentiis: Overcooking it. Not salting the water enough. Dumping all the pasta water. Sometimes adding oil to the pasta—other than ravioli. You need to season the pasta water!
The Feast: Why should people keep pasta water?
GDL: You’ve got to save pasta water because the water’s what really creates the velvety texture of the pasta. It brings it together.
The Feast: How much salt do you actually need to use?
GDL: I think a lot of people don’t realize how much salt you actually have to add to really season a strand of pasta. It’s a lot. For me, it’s almost a handful—for six quarts of water, though. A lot of people don’t use enough water to cook their pasta. I use kosher salt—bigger chunks of salt.
The Feast: What's the correct way to cook with salt?
GDL: Add the salt when the pasta is actually boiling. If you add it before, it settles to the bottom and it actually stains [the pot]. It oxidizes it. Once the water’s boiling, add the salt. It immediately will melt into the water, and then you add your pasta. Stir it, and then let it go.
The Feast: Why shouldn't people add oil to pasta while cooking it?
GDL: Because people were using pots with not enough water, pasta wouldn’t have enough space to swim, and they were adding oil to it. If you do that, the sauce never sticks to the pasta. It just slides right off. [Use] six to eight quarts of water, or you can cook it in a frying pan or a saucepan that’s wide, so the pasta has enough room to swim.
The Feast: What's been your biggest kitchen-related mistake?
GDL: When I first started catering, I worked for a family, and the first meal I made for them was Thanksgiving. I love cooking Thanksgiving. It’s actually, for me, one of the easier meals to cook because there’s so much planning you can do in advance, that you can plan it out in different stages. The thing is, they had a big dog, and I wasn’t used to cooking around dogs. I tripped over the dog once I put the turkey on the platter. Once the turkey hit the floor, that dog got to it before I did. So, there was no longer a turkey for Thanksgiving, but lots of sides. The woman I was cooking for had some pasta sauces in her pantry, so I whipped up some pasta really fast. It was one of my first jobs out of school. I was pretty horrified.
The Feast: When you go to Italy, what's an ingredient you always take home to the U.S.?
GDL: Seeds. Tomato, basil. All the seeds you can’t get here!
The Feast: What food trend are you sick of?
GDL: Truffles in everything: truffle oil, truffle butter. Truffles are something that should only be used when in-season. They are a specific flavor, and they should be used delicately. I don’t think they should be added to everything under the sun. It doesn’t make you more of a gourmet cook to use truffle in everything. It’s very overpowering. Use in moderation! It’s been overused a little too much.
The Feast: Is there a food trend you're loving right now?
GDL: Nowadays, people are using all sorts of different hot sauces. Sriracha is in everything—Sriracha mayonnaise. Everything is spiced up, and it helps a lot of dishes. It helps the palate open up a little bit.
The Feast: As much as you love food—what's one food you cannot stand?
GDL: I don’t eat coconut. I don’t like anything with coconut. Not [coconut] water. Just no coconut—at all. In anything.
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