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What Italians Have Taught Me About Pasta

5 Oct

A lot, that’s for sure. Before I came to Italy my culinary vocabulary consisted more or less of “Chalupa,” Arby’s Roast Beef, and Wendy’s Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Oh, man. I was a walking clichè straight out of Supersize Me. Just over six years later, with the famous Meditteranean diet to the rescue (no instruction books by famous “doctors” required), I’ve expanded my range in the kitchen (just a little) and am here to share my knowledge with the rest of my culinarily-challenged friends, when it comes to pasta.

I think I used to commit a lot of these pasta sins. No longer! I have seen the light! Let’s see how many of these things you already know about Italians (at least the ones I have met here in Italy) and their pasta:

1) Why Italians won’t eat pasta in restaurants outside of Italy. A.K.A.: “è scotta!”

You’ve surely heard the term “al dente” before, have you not? It literally means, “to the tooth,” and is usually translated as “firm to the bite.” Take a look at this example I took from a place that does pasta al dente to perfection, Da Enzo (if you want to read the whole post, click here.)

See that white ring in the middle? That’s the part that stayed uncooked and gives it the firm bite.

Try to persuade an Italian to eat in a restaurant outside of Italy. Fear usually sets in. “Ma, fa schifo, sarà scotta.” (But, it’s gross, it’ll be overcooked.) How many times have I heard Italians complain that pasta cooked outside of Italy is “scotta,” meaning overcooked, limp, mushy? You know, I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but when I first went back to the States after having lived here a while, I myself could no longer eat pasta in restaurants. There’s just something about knowing exactly when to take it out of the boiling water, following the minutes on the package but more importantly tasting, that makes the difference between mediocre pasta and excellent pasta. Speaking of following the cooking time printed on the package: I’ve discovered that the same package of Barilla pasta will have a longer cooking time printed on it when sold in the US as opposed to the cooking time printing on the Italian package. And, as obsessed as Italians are with “digestion,” I’ve also heard many a time that pasta cooked al dente is easier to digest.

2) Why you and your dinner companions should never order all different pasta dishes at a non-touristy, down-home pasta restaurant in Italy.

Now this is something that would never fly in the States. Picture yourself out to dinner here in Italy with, say, four or five other people. Each of you wants a different pasta dish. By the time you get to the third person who orders something different, the waiter gives a subtle annoyed sigh. By the time you get to the fourth, you get a look. By the time you’re at person number five, all hell is about to break loose, and you probably get a mini-lecture along the lines of “Hope you’re not really hungry because this is going to take a while…” or, maybe even more likely, “Can’t do it. At least three of you have to pick the same thing.” And folks, how many times have I been out to dinner where I or one of my friends have had to forgo that dish they really had their eye on, in order to conform to someone else’s taste! Why is this? Usually it’s because many non-touristy, non-chain restaurants only have a couple “bollitori” or burners to cook pasta on. Since pasta is usually made “espressa” meaning as you order it, if everyone orders something different, they don’t have enough room in the kitchen to make everything…they prefer to economize portions of the same dish so they can get it all out at the same time. Wouldn’t it be funny if you went to The Olive Garden and the waiter or waitress said: “Um, yeah, sorry, you’ll have to choose something that someone else is having because you’ve already ordered too many different things at this table?” You’d probably be able to get a free dinner out of it with a bit of “I’d like to speak to your manager.” Just try to pull that little trick here in Rome. I’d love to see what happens.

3) What you should NOT be doing to your pasta. (Hint: no walls are involved).

How many of you have heard the tale that in order to check when spaghetti is ready, you pull a strand out of the water and throw it against the wall—and if it sticks, it’s ready? What IS that? I mean, do people really do that? Tell that to an Italian and first, he or she is likely to ask you to repeat yourself. Once we’re all clear that you actually said what they thought you said, you’re probably going to get a blank stare, a puzzled “seriously?”, or maybe even a laugh, thinking that it was a joke to be enjoyed.

Don’t throw your pasta on the wall. Just taste it to know when it’s done.

And, how many of you rinse your pasta after you drain the water? Oh, boy. That’s a big crime around here. Most people say, “but if I don’t rinse it, it sticks.” Italians say, “Why in the world would it stick? You’re going to put sauce on it!”

What about breaking up your raw spaghetti before you throw it in the water? Yikes! It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard!

Cutting your spaghetti? Um, maybe not. Practice your wrist/twirl technique to look like a real pro…just watch out for the sauce back-splash. And by the way, Italians don’t use spoons to aid them in their twirling… they go freestyle with the fork alone.

4) Know your makes and models, and try not to mix it up.

Who knew that so many varieties of pasta existed, and not only that, but that each type had its own special role in the cucina italiana? Quadrucci? Well, those go in brodo (broth), of course. Penne? We like our arrabbiata sauce on those. Spaghetti? Great with clams. But don’t use it for amatriciana, because there you want bucatini… a form of spaghetti that’s like a straw (hollow in the middle). And the list goes on, and on, and on. Building your pasta vocabulary takes years! Strozzapreti—the “priest strangler” pasta. Alla chitarra—like guitar strings. Maltagliati—literally “cut bad.” You basically need a mini-degree to decipher it all, but that’s part of the fun.

5. Yes, you can eat pasta every day. And if your pasta dish arrives before mine, you can even start eating in front of me.

Many Italians that I know actually do eat pasta at least once a day, either for lunch or dinner (have yet to see it for breakfast!) But I usually don’t see them eating leftover pasta (doggie bags are a big no-no around here… remember, it has to be fresh!). No worries about a carb overload… Italian plates are probably at least 5 inches smaller in diameter than US restaurant plates. Portions here are still what I’d consider normal.

Another interesting twist: I’ve found that if I’m out to dinner with friends and my pasta arrives first, it’s not rude to dig in. Actually, it seems that people will feel more uncomfortable if you don’t start eating it right away. They get worried about it getting cold, and they know it won’t taste as good, and that creates food anxiety for them. “Mangia, mangia, se no si raffreda!” (Eat, eat, otherwise it’ll get cold!) I love this rule when I am dying of hunger. Same usually goes for pizza, by the way. But I generally wait for the green light of the “mangia” from the others (don’t worry, it usually comes), before I actually dig in.

Are you hungry now for a nice big plate of pasta? What can you add to my list of things that Italians teach about pasta? Do you have any questions or curiosities about how Italians cook and eat pasta? Share them in the comments section!

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49 Responses to “What Italians Have Taught Me About Pasta”

  1. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy October 5, 2007 at 2:32 pm #

    Excellent excellent list! I try to avoid ordering pasta outside of Italy because I’d rather eat something else when I’m not here…and yes, expectations are quite high.

    I am still learning my preferences and those of others for the pasta types…though I have to say I avoid farfalle now because I don’t like how it tastes al dente (the knot is too hard), whereas before I loved to eat them in the States.

  2. Peter October 5, 2007 at 3:27 pm #

    Interesting. My mother, who was Sicilian, rinsed and broke spaghetti in half. Al dente, of course! Good blog!(I would love to move there but I hear it is hard to get a job. I might get citizenship and give it a try when I retire)

  3. nyc/caribbean ragazza October 5, 2007 at 4:21 pm #

    Shelley I hear you! I cannot eat bad pasta, esp. when it’s overcooked. Long time ago a friend made me go with her to the Olive Garden (this was pre-Italy) and it was foul.

    I assume all the good cooking shows are helping Americans break the habit of overcooking, not salting the water, rinsing it after (which you should only do for pasta salads) or using too much sauce.

    I ate pasta every single day I was in Italy and yet I dropped pounds like crazy. I try to eat it no more that 2-3 times a week in Los Angeles and I still looked like a freaking Weeble.

  4. Michelle October 5, 2007 at 4:51 pm #

    Shelley,
    Girl, you forgot to mention putting sale grosso in the water! I’m not sure which is worse – at least in these parts – pasta that is “scotta” or “insipida.” Americans tend to not salt the water and that makes for gummy, strangely textured pasta. I do have to say that the photo you showed was a little “al dente” for my tooth. When I check my pasta and see it looks like that, I usually tell Cristiano “manca un minuto.” I too have become a pasta snob when I go home. And the word “brushetta” is like nails on a chalkboard, but I try not to be the sapientona Italian speaker and correct everybody. Though I keep telling my mom and she keeps saying it the wrong way!
    Michelle

  5. L Michelle October 5, 2007 at 5:38 pm #

    Oh, Shelley, everything you say is SO TRUE! My husband refuses to take me to an Italian restaurant in the US because of the complaining I do whenever it’s not EXACTLY like it was in Italy! It’s been nine years since I left Rome and I still cannot find any place in the US where I can get authentic Italian pasta cooked to the right consistency and without a ton of sauce on it unless I cook it myself. The one and ONLY time I was forced to eat at Olive Garden, the ravioli I ordered (I figured who could mess up ravioli?!) was so inundated with sauce that I could have made it feed five people. And if one more person tries to serve me spaghetti carbonara with vegetables or any meat other than pancetta, I think I will explode – I do NOT want chicken in my carbonara!

    Michelle, I agree about the word “brushetta,” but I still insist on correcting everyone who says it incorrectly – to the horror of my husband. Also, when I give copies of my Italian recipes to people, I include a lesson on how to pronounce bruschetta correctly. I’m trying to change it one person at a time!

    And I still eat my pasta as soon as it’s served and encourage everyone else to do so. I guess I’ve said enough….

  6. Kataroma October 5, 2007 at 5:48 pm #

    I don’t like my pasta that al dente either – al dente yes but with raw bits in the middle no.

    I never eat pasta when I’m overseas as I’m so bloody sick of pasta living here. Whenever I go anywhere else I’m just dying for some spicy Asian food or a good burger or steak.

    Broooshetta drives me nuts too. As does “frappuccino”, “moccachino” etc. I also can’t stand it when people say “I’ll have a latte” and what they mean is caffe latte not a glass of milk. It especially annoys me when people are pretentious about Italian food and drink, like “ohhh, I can’t drink that insipid drip coffee in the morning, no way, I alllwaaaay have a laaahtaay, dahling!” Or when they muck it up by adding weird ingredients ie: “have you had Joan’s fantastic meyer lemon, pistacchio nut and choko broooshetta? It’s divine!”

    I guess I’m just really grumpy.

  7. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 5, 2007 at 6:18 pm #

    You guys are great! Yes, I did think about mentioning salting the water but would you believe I figured that was too banal to even mention? I had no idea that people in the States didn’t salt the water. Yes, people, salt! Lots of it! I was shocked the first time I saw Ale make pasta… as soon as the water was boiling (not before as salt raises the boiling temp.), he reached into a JAR of salt and threw in like a handful. But it never tastes salty. That’s another good word to learn, “sciabba.” I don’t know if I’m spelling it right, I’ve never seen it written, but it means insipid and it’s bad when it happens to good Italian food. You see these looks on people’s faces… “it’s a bit sciabba…” You know that’s why there isn’t usually salt and pepper on the dinner tables in restaurants… the food is supposed to come out already perfectly seasoned to eat! That surprised me at first too.

  8. Michelle October 5, 2007 at 6:40 pm #

    Shelley,
    Definitely not a reprimand. But I do remember I never used salt in my pasta in the U.S. and never saw anyone else do it either. Now I go back home with a baggie full of sale grosso (may look suspicious to the baggage handlers…) in case we want to make pasta while we are there. It is true that living here, it just seems normal. If you tell Cristiano’s nonna her pasta is “insipida,” her face just falls! Because at that point, it can’t be corrected and she has “failed” la famiglia. You’d think you could just throw some salt on the top (but as you mentioned, it must be correctly seasoned in the cooking process) but, unfortunately, you can’t. Too late!

  9. Karen October 5, 2007 at 6:40 pm #

    My father was from Sicily and even though he hadn’t been there since he was a boy, he never changed his pasta style. “Al dente”, lots of fresh boiling well-salted water, never rinse and best of all a freshly made sauce from our garden tomatoes, very plain but so delicious. But when we were children, the commercial brands of pasta were VERY limited so he taught my mother to make pasta with semolina flour and sometimes with soft wheat flour and eggs. Visions of pasta hanging over (yes!!) broom handles to dry in our dining room was a usual sight for my friends to see when they came over….. (not to mention sausage hanging in our attic – but that’s another story)

    I love your blog!!

  10. Tonya October 5, 2007 at 6:51 pm #

    Here in Bella Napoli they Never, Ever put onions and garlic in the same dish. : )

  11. romantales October 5, 2007 at 7:04 pm #

    Shelley, the word you are looking for is sciapa, not sciabba.
    I had no problem with pasta (cooking, making or eating)since Croatia has very similar culinary tradition, but even there global tendency is to over cook pasta.

  12. finnyknits October 5, 2007 at 7:05 pm #

    I love all of this pasta talk. NYC had me cracking up with the weeble comment. When I visited you last I was *sure* I was going to be a tank by the time I left from all the pasta/gnocchi/pizza/carb eating, but NO! I actually lost a few pounds during my short visit while eating carbs like a madwoman. Here though, no carbs otherwise I Weeble-ize, too.

    Would it be too redundant to mention the whole pen-ne pronunciation issue again? It has got to happen all the time.

    Is the sale grosso you are all talking about here the same or similar to the kosher salt I use? It’s almost like rock salt – bigger grains, etc. Ale used it when he made the big dinner last time you were here.

  13. Enrico October 5, 2007 at 7:38 pm #

    Shelley, maybe the word is scialba.
    Romalantes, there are tons of synonims: sciapa, sciocca, insipida, scondita…etc etc etc
    Buon appetito!
    Enrico.

  14. vespa rossa October 5, 2007 at 10:56 pm #

    long-time reader, first time commenter — these are my favorite posts of yours. when you make observations about life in rome or share things you’ve learned in italy. keep these coming, please!

  15. Janavi October 5, 2007 at 11:46 pm #

    “Brushetta” makes me crazy as well. Someone actually corrected me once when I said “Bruschetta”-I was so stunned I was speechless. My goal in life is to make pasta as well as an Italian,but I don’t know-luckily we have lots of great Italian restaurants here in NY now-not just the red sauce kind any more.

  16. Kelli October 6, 2007 at 12:10 am #

    Mmm… I love pasta al dente. Maybe that is what I’ll make tonight!

  17. jessica in rome October 6, 2007 at 4:20 am #

    My favorite pasta story was when Daniele told me, on top of every thing else, that even the water in Italy is needed for perfect pasta. At first I was like you have to be kidding me!? So not only salt, al dente, ect…but the water you cook it in MUST originate in Italia? Like always though, now I am starting to believe him. I think it’s cool that we can’t replicate the food here anywhere else, it makes it so special!! Great post!!! PS I am off to the US in 25 days and will return at the end of Nov or early Dec. Do you have a request for anything? I can stuff something in my luggage for you 🙂

  18. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 6, 2007 at 10:55 am #

    Great comments. Just a few things:

    I asked Ale for the spelling, he told me sciapa. At least that’s the word I’ve learned, even though I can’t spell it…apparently I can’t even tell the difference between a b and a p. Ha!

    Sale grosso is rock salt, larger grains. We don’t always use strictly sale grosso but if we have it that’s what we use for the water.

    Tonya: I’ve heard about not mixing onions and garlic in the same dish too… I learned that when someone taught me how to make a simple tomato sauce, I think I added both (what the heck do I know) and got gently corrected. But I don’t know if everyone agrees on this one.

    Jessica in Rome: As far as the water goes, I have to say that I’ve heard people say “De Cecco” is the best brand of pasta because the water in Abruzzo where they make it is what makes the difference. Hmmm… don’t know about that, but I have done some informal quizzing and most people seem to agree that De Cecco is the best pasta. (Sorry, Barilla).

  19. Janavi October 6, 2007 at 1:48 pm #

    A boyfriend I had from Firenze was adament about not using onions & garlic together, and most recipes I see use one or the other. I think it’s probably regional.

  20. sandi @ the whistlestop cafe October 6, 2007 at 3:24 pm #

    Thanks for the cooking lesson~ I like my pasta al dente. Not like most southern cooks who will bake maccaroni into a cheesy mush.
    That is funny about the different kinds of pasta all at one table… I may have gotten that look before! Now I know.

  21. André Wegner October 6, 2007 at 8:01 pm #

    One thing I saw very often by non-italians was to use oil in the boiling water (+ salt).
    The explanation was always that otherwise the pasta would stick.

  22. Elizabeth October 6, 2007 at 11:32 pm #

    We are a pasta once a day family. My sons used to really suffer when in the US with their grandparents each July and going to day camp, horrified at having to eat ham & cheese or tuna SANDWICHES for lunch every day. THey tried so hard to teach their grandmother to use SALT in the water and not leave the pasta in the pot as long as it said to on the box and would complain to me everytime that I called because she just couldn’t get it right. They were only about 10 years old at the time and already fully indoctrinated into Italian pasta culture!

  23. Rachel October 7, 2007 at 1:38 am #

    Delurking to say hello, Shelly, and that yes, al dente is something we need to get real about here in the States. I found your blog while searching for Rome info on our wonderful trip there recently. I’m not an expat, but am married to a Frenchman, and many of your posts have made me chuckle and I most definitely relate.

    We miss Rome. Rome was heavenly. I’ve heard a lot of people trash it, but it’s my kind of town. But then again an ideal vacation spot for us is also Manhattan. So Rome works for us. We ate a lot in Testaccio while we were there, and of course, the pasta was perfect. Especially the homemade tonnarrella with nothing but cheese, olive oil, garlic (I think), salt and pepper. Oh my god. OH MY GOD. That’s what we were saying with our eyes to each other as we wolfed it down, because we were too enraptured to talk… ah, Roma.

    I ditto your recommendation on Blue Ice for gelato. We stumbled on that 2nd night there. Yowza. Lordy. Heaven.
    Whole Foods has a gelato bar. A measly tiny little cup of what I’m sure is rather average gelato for $2.49. And that’s the cheap version. Yeah, right.

    My pasta question: how in the heck do Romans eat out (what seems to be often) and have pasta as Prima Piatti, *then*a Secundo Piatti?? You’re right, the portions are a bit smaller but… as we were looking around, there seemed to be a lot of food served. We noticed some didn’t finish everything. Maybe that’s part of it too. But a lot did. We did. Ah, memories…

  24. Tim October 7, 2007 at 2:41 am #

    Hi Shelley! I’m ashamed to admit my big mistake my first night out in Rome when I was a student there in the mid-80s. I ordered spaghetti alla vongole, which, of course, was a white sauce with lots of garlic. I asked for cheese. The waiter said, “You must be an American. NO! You do not put cheese on pasta with garlic.” Lesson learned. When I tell this story in the States, my friends don’t understand. To them “the customer is always right,” and “if I want cheese, give me cheese!” I realized, of course, the waiter was, in his Roman way, trying to help me understand how pasta should be eaten to truly enjoy the flavors.

    I tell the students I bring to Rome, “After you go out to eat in Rome, you will never go to Olive Garden again.” One of my students worked in Olive Garden while going to school here. Their food is in bags, which they pretty much boil. Blech!

    I struggle making pasta at home to give it the perfect al dente bite. It means cooking it less than the box says, but the times vary.

    When I go to the Bronx, there is a fresh pasta maker there who cuts the sheets when I order. A drive home, put on the water, cook, sauce, and eat. Yum.

    Even though I just had a marvelous dinner, I’m suddenly hungry again for a nice carbonara — which is almost impossible to find in U.S. restaurants. Only seven months until my next visit with the latest group of students. Can’t wait!

  25. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 7, 2007 at 9:52 am #

    First of all, I forgot to say hi to some delurkers! Glad that this post drew you out of hiding. 😉 Welcome Vespa Rossa and Rachel! I’ll do my best to brainstorm more ideas like this.

    Tim: We had a good discussion going a few weeks back among the commenters when I posted a picture of a plate of pasta with octopus that arrived already sprinkled with grated pecorino. There were lots of purists who were surprised that it came served that way. My main Roman cooking reference, my husband, tells me that in *some* exceptions seafood pasta can be served with pecorino, but others will tell you MAI, ma MAI! Never, ever! I don’t eat seafood pasta, except for shrimp risotto and lobster pasta, so luckily I don’t have to worry about this too much.
    I’m sure the 7 months will fly… I have guests who booked for Oct. back in January and you wouldn’t believe how fast the time flew for them!

  26. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 7, 2007 at 9:55 am #

    PS Andrè: I’ve never seen anyone add oil to the water here… but there are probably lots of regional variations and personal preferences in terms of cooking pasta, esp. when it comes to what people learned from their family’s primary cook. I’ve always loved how many Italians can whip up meals without recipes or cookbooks, and it’s because the cooking lessons are learned growing up in the kitchen, watching and trying things out together.

  27. Rachel October 7, 2007 at 6:12 pm #

    Hi Shelley… here’s an idea for you: how about a review of all those hole in the wall, pizza rustica joints sprinkled throughout Rome, or at least the good ones? We stumbled on one just in front of the ruins where Julius Caesar was murdered (the ruin that is now a cat sanctuary, if that helps.) Not far from the Pantheon. Wish I could remember the name… but for hole in the wall pizza, it was quite, quite good. Not to mention the location, which was kind of mind boggling to ponder as we ate our slices…

  28. Meg October 8, 2007 at 12:30 am #

    There’s also the over-saucing crime, which usually goes hand in hand with the pasta being cooked into mushy submission. Whatever your stance on cheese/fish, so often in the states, the cheese for pasta is ancient, rancid “parmesan” (from a can) making a sludgy coating. I should admit, that although I love having pasta in Italy, I commit the oversaucing crime at home. I don’t leave the pasta swimming in sauce, but I do like having a little more than is strictly proper.
    The biggest issue I ran into when cooking in Italy was that someone ALWAYS said “non cosi!”

  29. Dorina October 8, 2007 at 7:08 am #

    about the spoon thing, doesn’t that depend on whether your family is from sicily . . . ?

  30. Sestofi October 8, 2007 at 9:59 am #

    Dear Shelley,

    Greetings from Florence! Love your blog; I have such wonderful memories of Rome.

    Here’s another pasta tip that many people don’t know about: when you drain the pasta, place the colander over another (clean) pot so as to save the water. This is useful for two reasons:

    1) if your sauce is too dry, you can add a little bit of this water (but not too much!) and the starch contained in it will bind with the sauce and make it smoother without turning it watery; and

    2) after the meal, use this leftover water (better if still warm) to give your dishes a first rinse before washing them. Again, it is the starch in the water that will degrease the dishes so that you don’t end up with a yucky mess when it comes time to wash up!

    Best,
    Sestofi

  31. Gil October 8, 2007 at 10:28 am #

    Very interesting and informative post. This is the first time I’ve heard that people, in the US, don’t put salt in the water. I figured that it goes along with lowering the heat so the water doesn’t boil all over the stove.

    I rarely add salt to food except for beef as my wife seems to do a great job of flavoring food in its preparation. We both noticed that the pasta appeared too salty for our tastes in a few of the regions we visited in Italy last Summer.

    Now I am getting hungry. Thanks again for your post.

  32. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 8, 2007 at 11:49 am #

    Rachel: It’s called Pizzeria Florida, on Via Florida. You did a good job of describing where it is. I’ve always thought they were friendly and I don’t get the feeling they rip off tourists. They have some of the cheapest water bottles in the historic center! (Normal bar prices as opposed to total inflation like the 2,50 bottles you’ll find near the Colosseum, etc.) There’s a really great pizza al taglio not far from there, on Via del Piè di Marmo (no name). There’s also an excellent one just across from Piazza Belli in Trastevere (Mamma Che Pizza).

    Meg: You’re right, most Italians I know say that in the States we put way too much sauce on the pasta. But sopping up the sauce with bread afterwards, at least here in Rome, is not considered bad manners. It’s actually the polite thing to do, to show you enjoyed the pasta! It’s called the “scarpetta.”

    Dorina: No idea! Didn’t know that was considered a Sicilian thing. I’ve mainly seen it in restaurants abroad in Europe, where pasta comes served with a spoon and a fork, and it’s like, what? But other Europeans always use a spoon to help them wind the pasta. To me it actually looks more complicated.

    Sestofi: Thanks for the tips! The first lady I lived with here in Rome was a retired woman and she used to cook for me everyday (I was majorly spoiled), and she told me this trick about saving the pasta water for doing the dishes. I never actually started doing it but apparently she wasn’t the only one who used this technique!

    Gil: Same goes for me, I always used to put salt in the boiling water in the States, even before I had ever come to Italy… since I’m no cook, the only explanation I can find is either my mom used to do it (can’t remember, she didn’t make pasta often, we’re not Italian), or… it says to do so on the package… probably the more likely conclusion.

  33. Italian Woman October 9, 2007 at 8:15 am #

    Not eating pasta outside Italy? That to me is very strange. If you are Italian you eat pasta wherever you are. It’s your cuisine. We grew up Italian-American and of course all our food was Italian. Naturally the pasta water was salted, the sauce was done properly etc. We did not eat this food in restaurants; we had it in the home, day after day, week after week, just like all Italians.

  34. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 9, 2007 at 8:47 am #

    Italian Woman: Not eating pasta in restaurants outside of Italy. If we have access to a kitchen while we’re away, we usually always make pasta at least once.

  35. marco October 9, 2007 at 2:33 pm #

    Nice Blog. I’m italian and of course I don’t eat pasta when I’m abroad (also when I’m in north Italy, I try not to eat pasta, because it isn’t really “al dente”) and of course I eat pasta as soon as possible “mangia, mangia” . I never eat freezed pasta; it’s so symple to cook a good pasta with fresh ingredients. Personally I prefer rough pasta because it jons better with gravies. If I don’t eat all the pasta I’ve cooked, I conserve it in the refrigerator and I re-cook it in a tegame with a litlle bit of oil, until it becames a little bit “croccante”.

  36. Becca October 22, 2007 at 5:01 am #

    Oh, I know what you mean! After coming back from Italy, my mum cooked pasta last night and it just wasnt the same! I was told before I left that pasta was really bland in Italy but now Im back in Australia Ive found pasta so far to be blander than Italian pasta.
    And…what is gnocci? I ate it afew times in Italy but I never got to ask what it is made of.

  37. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 22, 2007 at 7:02 pm #

    Ciao Becca… gnocchi are like little potato dumplings… the “pasta” (dough) is made from potatoes. They don’t take long to cook because they are already soft when they go in the water.

  38. Mitch McDad October 24, 2007 at 6:12 am #

    Great blog. Wish I found it a month ago before my trip to Roma. Your apartments look very cool.
    Take care.

  39. Robert October 28, 2007 at 12:34 pm #

    I just have to thank you for this post! Much appreciated and full of good advice.

    I also wanted to share this experience with you. A few years ago I was sharing a house with an Irish guy, and on two occasions he invited people over to dinner – is signature dish: spaghetti bolognese…

    Only, to save time, he prepared the meal the night before. Normally this would not be a problem, if only he had left the pasta to cook just before serving the meal, but no, he cooked the spaghetti the night before, then turned off the heat and left it sitting in the water right up until the next evening when he served it to his unsuspecting victims for dinner!!!

    I shudder just thinking of it.

  40. Shelley, At Home in Rome October 28, 2007 at 4:02 pm #

    Robert: Wow. Just….wow. How could the guy even find the free time to have a dinner with friends if he had to pre-cook the pasta to “save time”? Great story. I don’t think I can tell it to any Italians though because they would shudder too. I mean, I could see preparing the sauce the night before, perhaps, but there’s no reason to pre-cook the pasta, it only takes like just over 10 minutes to cook! Oh well, we all have our different habits in the kitchen. LOL.

  41. Robert October 28, 2007 at 7:20 pm #

    Shelley, it was shocker for me too (my mum is of Italian descent so does pasta properly – even rolls the fresh stuff out by hand, not using a pasta machine) so this was akin to dragging fingernails across a chalkboard to witness…

  42. Roop December 30, 2007 at 9:13 am #

    Pasta with Lunch and Dinner but not for breakfast huh? Try Pasta with Fresh Ham or Virginia Ham and a poached egg or fried egg with a runny yoke. Fry the ham up with butter, some good butter, brown it up cos it’s gonna mix with the yoke and makes for a nice sauce. Sprinkle with lots of pepper and fresh parmigiana…oh my goodness. I eat this once at least once a week.

  43. Sara - Piperita February 20, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    That’s a genius post Shelley!
    Sara R told to look out for it, and I’m really pleased!
    I’m writing something similar, but more form an Italian point of view!
    🙂

  44. Gaia December 18, 2008 at 10:10 am #

    well, I thank you first of all because you gave me the phone number of the pasticceria siciliana svizzera, I live just around the corner and needed the number to order some mignons for a party! Your page on it was one of the first ones on google.
    That’s what took me to your pasta page.
    I then was captured by your writing. Being 100% italian, but english fluent I found it a little uncanny to read things I usually say written by someone else.

  45. Sharon June 26, 2009 at 3:23 am #

    Hey, you guys, you have not definitely told me how Italians eat pasta! With a spoon or no?

  46. nicola April 1, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    And whats with the oil in the pasta cooking water??
    Why?

  47. nicola April 1, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    Oh,
    Ever since you were able to get authentic Italian ingredients here in the states, pasta, cooked here, in the hands of a knowledgable cook, is every bit as good as in italy.

    Pasta is simple. IF the few raw ingredients aren’t up to snuff, there isn’t enough talent in the world to make it good.

  48. Josh Kemper May 20, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    I loved the “mangia” part. When I make food for people, I hate when they sit around being “polite” and let it get cold. Or worse, when my wife wants to clean up BEFORE we eat!

  49. Cassandra September 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Ciao! I found this post through your Top Ten Entry. Although I’ve traveled around Italia a bit, I never scraped the surface of the ordering-eating culture. Tip #2 was especially enlightening.

    Thanks for shedding some light on this subject, I will be prepared now for my next trip!

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