so you sit before a dark bowl heaped with steaming strozzapreti, topped with only parmesan and your best olive oil. you ponder who would have set about noodles at the dawn of pasta time. you consider etruscans. these guys lived some three thousand years in the early days of our now tuscany. and yes, by some accounts they had their pasta, what ever that meant in them those days.
then there’s the chinese. of course. chinese han did trade with early romans and had them rolling grind stones all along the silk road. so, once the mill stone idea settled in and wheat flour got mixed with water, such dough when shaped and boiled became ‘ping’, in other words pasta. there is some verse of the making and the eating done by ‘shu his’, a chinese official dining around three hundred bc.
slurping your noodles today might give thought to boccaccio (why not while you’re slurping) he had folk sitting around a parmesan mountain, doing ‘nothing but boiling macaroni and ravioli in a capon broth’, no less. this very loosely translated from the decameron. which book likely better be suited for juicier items. but you obsess with the notion of macaroni. why, the very concept alone. macerare aside, meaning kneading, i’ve always liked the word’s version as explained by locatelli: early pasta then was quite costly, so someone might have exclaimed to a vendor: si buoni, ma caroni. stephanie is attempting ‘la lingua bella’, and she liked the turn of that prase as a sweet explanation of the word’s beginning. ‘ma caroni’ or not, it won’t surprise anyone that our beloved italians eat by far most of the pasta the world over. consider sophia loren, she, who said: ‘all you see i owe to spaghetti’. italians eat virtually all the pasta, certainly that made in italy, which is why an italian in exile is called a ‘macaroni’.
dante in exile (without pasta)
basta pasta. let's talk shapes and sauce. one leads to another, like love and marriage. sauces have shaped the habits of noodles for ever, though in many a case it is the other way around. the way shapes are designed will almost dictate the sauce of choice. a good example would be an item called ‘spaghetti bolognese’. this typically refers to a meat sauce ladled onto spaghetti. it is like, a most common dish, though not one you would likely have in italy. seems an american invention, simply put, a meat sauce has no place to hold on to spaghetti. i’m told that you would instead serve such sauce with tagliatelle, or rigatoni. oh, the nuanced details of eating pasta. the various shapes and distinctions. let alone the pride of locals, of diversion, deviation and aberration. no end. a recent book on the subject lists the names of various pasta, just only eclipsed by baptismals in phone books. fettuce, fettucini, fettucelle, spaghetti, spaghettone, spaghettini, easily translated as little slices and little twines, that a ziti is eaten at weddings (zita would be a bride, a least in napoli), 'strozzapreti' resemble a twisted towel and therefore are named priest-chokers, shapes have no end, there is even a 'maltagliati' which means ‘badly cut’.
pasta is pasta, the world over, but, and only in italy would it be law that dried pasta must be made exclusively from durum wheat. there is of course then the ‘problem’ of where their durum comes from. impossibly from france. more likely from canada, yes, canada grows most of the world’s durum. who would have ‘thunken’, there is an international durum symposium, called ‘durum, from seed to pasta’ and it is held, natch, in bologna. funny details glanced from the web.
and sauces: a zillion sauces, by definition. but pasta-sauce as specific: my most favorite has to be ‘al crudo’: capers, black olives, anchovies and fresh tomatoes, mingled at room temperature. some basil, always that. and olive oil, of course. with spaghetti, or bucatini. this works only in late summer, when tomatoes are at their best. in winter or in an emergency i open a can of san marzano, dell’agro sarnese-nocerino. that distinguished place near naples in the campania, where tomatoes grow best in deep flavor on account of vesuvius' ashes and the nearness to the gulf.
i love pesto. and amatriciana, the bolognese and the garlic and lemon, though now, in january and in portland i grate fresh parmigiano reggiano over those strangled priests, a few strong turns of pepper, some sea salt and a little of the ‘best’ olive oil.
you must know, if you’ve read this far, that pasta goes a long way in my kitchen. no question, it would be my food on that island with nothing else there to eat. and now, even stephanie has become addicted. what would i do on my island without her, after all?