In this section, many recipes call for certain ingredients and measurements. Here are my .02 Canadian cents worth: (Updated Feb 28/12: I guess I can't say cents anymore since they are now out of circulation).
A bit of oil and a bit of butter – about 2-3 tbsp. of each. Garlic clove – 1 or 2 (I normally use the one from the jar already chopped up). Fresh basil, parsley, and cilantro (coriander) – normally to taste.
2-3 oz wine – I like to put about 3-4 oz. Salt and fresh pepper is always to taste but don't over do it. Some Parmesan cheese – means lots, as she use to love it.
Remember that your guests' tastes are different than yours. Don't over spice – let them add more.
A FEW TIPS AND TRICKS The following comments are based on my daily cooking knowledge, but trust me, you'll never fail again.
Pasta You should always use a good grade of pasta. It is so cheap to make a meal, there's no reason not to have the best. And remember, it should always be cooked al dente. Read the label for the cooking time.
Some of my favourite brands are:
With these brands, even if you over cook it a bit, they will not stick together, whereas a cheep brand will.
To rinse or not to rinse... NOT!!! The only time you will want to rinse your pasta is when it's used for a baked dish like lasagna. Rinse it over cold water immediately to stop it from overcooking.
If not used for baking, when cooked (al dente), drain it and place it in a large bowl that contains half of your warm sauce. Put the rest of the sauce over it immediately. I often just strain it directly from the pot with a ladle and put it in the bowl with the sugo (sauce), and then add more sugo over it.
Mix the pasta and sugo immediately. Not rinsing the pasta will cause your sauce to stick to the pasta due to the starch (which is what you want). Otherwise the sauce falls off the pasta and will sit around the plate... like a ring around the... plate. If your sauce is too thick to your liking, add a bit (1/4 cup) of the pasta water to the pasta dish.
Sauces (a.k.a. sugo) Sauces are "always" mixed with the pasta and not plopped on top of it. There should only be enough sauce to wet the pasta and not camouflage it. If you've made too much sauce, great, you'll have some for the next day or you can freeze it.
All sauces should be simmered – never over a high burner.
Cheeses Most pasta dishes are best served with lots of fresh cheese sprinkled over them. The types to look for are:
Romano, Peccorino, and Parmesan (fresh and grated)
Fresh Italian mozzarella – the real one in water, not your typical packaged one
Ricotta – once you have it, you'll never turn back. My preferred one is Stella from Saputo
For fresh grated cheese, go to your Italian grocer, find a nice size piece, and have them grate it fine; it's free! Keep a small amount in a covered container in the fridge and freeze the rest. Yes, freeze it! Take out what you need when you need it.
Never fry on high, and never let it brown totally – it will burn and become bitter.