Iconic Food Food

The proof is in the pasta

My daughter’s Florentine friend, Gina, got huffy when asked about the iconic spaghetti and meatballs. “There is no such thing as spaghetti and meatballs in Italy,” she snapped. The American films have a lot to answer for.

Then another Italian friend, Margo Schachter from Milano, told me that the most popular Italian food is not risotto, tiramisu or even the pizza. “It is pasta al pomodoro (spaghetti, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and basil). It is iconic because it is the most simple, yet the most widely considered Italian comfort food.” Schachter brushes aside queries about the origins of pasta. Is it true that it did not come from Italy? “There is a legend that it originated in China, the tomatoes came from America and all the other ingredients come from the South of Italy, but traditions are the result of continued evolution.”

Schachter happens to be a food and lifestyle editor, who writes for the digital edition of La Cucina Italiana , and Vanity Fair among others, and is the managing editor of Good Living magazine. “I don’t love cooking, but I cook for the people I love,” says Schachter.

Evidently, pasta is the rasam sadam of Italy. “The majority eat pasta once a day, as a ‘primo’. Nowadays, some use new cereals and try to cut out carbs. But in my childhood, if we had people over, there would always be a pasta dish followed by a second course with meat or cheese.”

Spaghetti and penne are the most common, says Schachter. “While some are more well-known, others are regional. Orecchiette, for example, is from Puglia in the South. You can eat it with Roman cabbage, garlic, anchovies or horse meat ragù (yes, we eat horses, and rabbits too!).”

Like the ready-made sevai and the idli/dosa batter, Italians too buy pasta off the shelf. But, says Schachter, many people still prepare it fresh. “It’s very common in Emilia-Romagna (capital Bologna), in northern Italy. They eat more fresh pasta with the traditional ragù, famously called Bolognese.”

I visited the factory of Attilio Mastromauro, who grew up in a family that hand-made pasta in Puglia. However, he had not come to work that day because he had just turned 100 a few days earlier. But, it was business as usual at his pasta factory in Corato in South Italy. We watched in awe as huge machines rolled out pastas in different shapes and sizes (a grand total of 140 varieties in all).

We ate in family-run trattorias, where we watched our food being cooked. As we waited, we nibbled on large platters of bread with olive oil. Then, tucked into sumptuous pasta and vegetables. Schachter tells me that every region has its favourite recipes. When in Rome, Schachter suggests trying the pasta at Pipero al Rex and Roscioli.


Spaghetti al pomodoro

You just need four basic ingredients:

A good hard wheat pasta, extra virgin olive oil, tomato sauce and a couple of basil leaves. Some people use onions, others fresh tomatoes. It is all about taste. But please, noNO oregano, noNO butter and no bell pepper. Be patient with the tomato sauce and don’t over-cook the pasta (must be firm, with a raw core).

For the sauce: Ingredients

2 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 whole clove of garlic

1 can of peeled tomatoes in their juices

1 big pinch of salt

1 small pinch of sugar

Freshly-ground black pepper

1 sprig of fresh basil, plus more leaves


In a large pan, pour two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and add a clove of garlic, skin and all (crushed with your hand). Cook over medium heat. Before the garlic turns brown, discard it and add the tomato with a sprig of basil. Cook for half an hour, gently, add a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and freshly-ground black pepper.

For the spaghetti: Ingredients

180 gms of Italian grain spaghetti


Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Cook the spaghetti for five minutes less than the instructions on the packet. Stir a couple of times. Before draining the cooked pasta, keep aside a glass of the pasta water.

Drain and transfer the pasta into the pan of tomato sauce and continue cooking, adding the pasta water.

Stir gently for about three minutes until it is al dente. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil, chopped basil and stir. Garnish with grated parmesan.

Made for each other

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Printable version | May 19, 2022 11:40:03 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/pasta-the-italian-way/article17744244.ece