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Mastering the Art: Insights from MasterChef Malta on 5 Classic ITALIAN PASTA Dishes

Uncover the secrets to perfecting 5 classic Italian pasta dishes with expert tips inspired by MasterChef Malta critiques.

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5 classic Italian pasta dishes

With its rich flavours and comforting textures, Italian cuisine holds a special place in the hearts of food enthusiasts worldwide. Malta is no different and you will often find the various types of pasta present in pantries of many local households.

Among the crown jewels of Italian cuisine are pasta dishes that range from the simplicity of Aglio, Oglio e Peperoncino to the creamy delight of Carbonara. 

Carbonara pasta dish served

Recently, MasterChef Malta spotlighted five such dishes, offering a treasure trove of insights into what makes or breaks these beloved recipes. 

With the help of some research, we will delve into each dish, addressing common pitfalls as highlighted by the three judges of MasterChef Malta and providing guidance to elevate your pasta-making skills.

Aglio, Oglio e Peperoncino: The Delicate Balance of Simplicity

Aglio, Oglio e Peperoncino, a dish celebrated for its simplicity, often falls victim to common errors that can significantly impact its delicate balance. 

The three judges of MasterChef Malta noted several issues, including using a type of pasta other than long ones like spaghetti, an underwhelming amount of sauce, undercooked pasta, an overpowering garlic flavour, excessive oil, and a general lack of seasoning.

Aglio, Oglio e Peperoncino Best Practices:

Pasta Choice: Always choose long pasta, such as spaghetti, to hold the sauce better.

Sauce Quantity: Ensure enough sauce to coat the pasta lightly but thoroughly.

Cooking Pasta: Achieve al dente texture by following the package instructions and tasting a few minutes before the suggested time.

Garlic Balance: Use garlic sparingly and consider sautéing it just until fragrant to avoid overpowering the dish.

Oil Usage: A moderate amount of extra virgin olive oil is key to binding the sauce and pasta without making the dish greasy.

Seasoning: Remember to use salt and a touch of freshly ground pepper to enhance the flavours.

Aglio, Oglio e Peperoncino Recipe:


400g spaghetti

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes (adjust to taste)

100ml extra virgin olive oil

Salt, to taste

Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)


Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain.

While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chilli flakes, cooking until the garlic is golden but not browned.

Add the drained spaghetti to the pan. Toss well to coat, adding a little pasta water to help the sauce cling to the pasta.

Season with salt and sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.

Amatriciana: The Quest for Balance and Texture

Amatriciana's rich sauce and the perfect balance of ingredients make it a favourite. However, common mistakes such as lack of seasoning, undercooked pasta, over-reduced sauce, improperly cut guanciale, and an overly acidic taste can detract from its glory.

Amatriciana Best Practices:

Seasoning: Season judiciously to highlight the sauce's complex flavours.

Pasta Texture: Cook pasta until al dente to complement the hearty sauce.

Sauce Consistency: Monitor the sauce closely to prevent over-reduction, aiming for a silky texture.

Guanciale Preparation: Cut the guanciale into small, bite-sized pieces to ensure it renders properly and integrates well with the sauce.

Acidity Balance: If needed, balance the tomato's acidity with a pinch of sugar. Use ripe tomatoes or a high-quality canned variety.

Amatriciana Recipe:


400g bucatini or spaghetti

200g guanciale, cut into strips

400g canned San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

1 small chilli pepper, finely chopped (or chilli flakes)

100g Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Salt, to taste


Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water.

Fry the guanciale in a pan until it starts to crisp. Remove some of the fat if necessary.

Add the chilli and tomatoes to the pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Season with salt.

Toss the pasta in the sauce, adding a bit of pasta water if needed to make it silky.

Serve with a generous sprinkle of Pecorino Romano.

Carbonara: Achieving Creamy Perfection

Carbonara, with its creamy texture and rich flavours, requires precision. The judges pointed out issues like undercooked eggs, scrambled eggs instead of a smooth sauce, excessive oil, burned guanciale, and a lack of seasoning.

Carbonara pasta dish ingredients

Carbonara Best Practices:

Egg Technique: Whisk eggs and cheese together and combine with the pasta away from direct heat to avoid scrambling.

Workspace Cleanliness: Maintain a clean workspace to manage the cooking process effectively.

Oil and Guanciale: Use minimal oil since guanciale will release fat; ensure it's cooked to a crisp, golden brown without burning.

Seasoning: Properly season with quality cheese and black pepper to enhance the dish's creamy texture and depth of flavour.

Carbonara Recipe:


400g spaghetti

150g guanciale, cut into small pieces

3 large eggs

75g Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Black pepper, freshly ground

Salt, for pasta water


Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain.

Cook the guanciale in a pan until crispy. Remove from heat.

Whisk together the eggs, cheese, and a generous amount of black pepper in a bowl.

Add the drained pasta to the pan with guanciale. Pour the egg mixture over, tossing quickly (off the heat) to coat the pasta without scrambling the eggs.

If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to reach the desired consistency.

Serve immediately with extra cheese and black pepper.

Pesto: The Art of Freshness and Texture

Pesto, known for its fresh and vibrant flavour, can easily become too oily, tasteless, or incorrectly textured. The judges' feedback highlighted issues such as excessive oil, lack of seasoning, insufficient sauce, the use of hazelnuts leading to bitterness, watery sauce, and sauce adherence to the pan.

For a healthier version perhaps you may want to check our our 'pea pesto' recipe version.

Pesto Best Practices:

Oil Proportion: Use oil sparingly to maintain the sauce's cohesion.

Nut Choice: Stick to traditional pine nuts to avoid bitterness and achieve the classic taste.

Seasoning: Generously season and consider adding a touch of Parmesan or Pecorino cheese for depth.

Sauce Quantity: Ensure enough sauce to generously coat the pasta without drowning it.

Texture: Aim for a sauce that's neither too thick nor too watery. Use a bit of pasta water to adjust consistency if necessary.

Pesto Recipe:


400g linguine or trofie

2 cups fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup pine nuts

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Salt, to taste


Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water.

In a food processor, blend the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a pinch of salt until roughly chopped.

With the processor running, add the olive oil steadily until the pesto comes together.

Transfer to a bowl and mix in the Parmesan cheese.

Toss the pesto with the pasta, adding water to loosen the sauce.

Serve immediately, garnished with more cheese if desired.

Cacio e Pepe: The Symphony of Simplicity

Cacio e Pepe's magic lies in its simplicity, but achieving the perfect balance of cheese, pepper, and pasta is an art. The judges noted undercooked pasta and a lack of seasoning as common pitfalls.

Pasta Cacio e Pepe served

Cacio e Pepe Best Practices:

Pasta Doneness: Cook the pasta to al dente to ensure it melds perfectly with the sauce.

Cheese Integration: Use the pasta's cooking water to help melt the cheese and bind the sauce, avoiding clumps.

Seasoning: Balance the sharpness of Pecorino Romano with the boldness of freshly cracked black pepper, adjusting to taste.

Cacio e Pepe Recipe:


400g spaghetti or tonnarelli

200g Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated

1 tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground

Salt, for pasta water


Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain.

Toast the black pepper in a large pan for about 1 minute until fragrant.

Add about 3/4 cup of pasta water to the pan with pepper to create a warm liquid.

Add the pasta, then remove the pan from heat. Add the cheese gradually, tossing constantly, to create a creamy sauce. Add more pasta water if necessary.

Serve immediately, with additional cheese and black pepper if desired.

Get busy cooking pasta!

MasterChef Malta's focus on these five classic Italian pasta dishes showcased the contestants' skills and highlighted common areas for improvement. 

By addressing these critiques with careful attention to detail and technique, you can elevate your pasta dishes from good to extraordinary. 

Remember, the beauty of Italian cuisine lies in its simplicity and the quality of its ingredients. 

So get cooking and buon appetito!


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