Not every pasta needs cheese, though. Most Italian cooks will tell you that pasta dressed with shellfish sauces, like spaghetti with clams or lobster, are never tossed with cheese, because the cheese flavor would overwhelm the flavor of the seafood.
But as with everything else in Italian cooking, there are exceptions to this rule. Recently in Rome in a very good restaurant, I was served bucatini pasta with octopus in tomato sauce topped with pecorino cheese. To be on the safe side, though, avoid adding cheese to anything but pasta with meat, tomato, and vegetable sauces.
When purchasing cheese, it is best to buy it in one piece and grate it yourself as close as possible to serving time. Tiny flakes of grated cheese dry out quickly and lose flavor when they are exposed to air, so the less time between grating and eating, the more flavorful the cheese will be. I like to place a chunk of cheese and a small grater on the table and let everyone grate his or her own.
HOW TO GRATE CHEESE
An old-fashioned box grater is still perfect for grating cheese for pasta. The medium-size holes give the cheese good texture, which enhances its ability to blend with the pasta and sauce and improves the flavor. Another grater I like is the Mouli grater, which has a perforated rotary drum. You put a piece of cheese in the hopper, crank the handle, the drum grates against the cheese and out it comes in fine shreds.
A microplane grater, which was originally a tool used by woodworkers, also does a good job, but it grates the cheese so fine it may throw off your measuring when using the cheese for recipes.
If I have a large quantity of cheese to grate, I use the food processor with a steel blade, though it is not ideal. Grana cheeses are too hard for the shredding blade, and the solid steel blade grinds the cheese into little pellets. It is not as desirable as cheese that has been grated, but it does not make a difference in cooked dishes because the cheese melts.
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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