Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lessons in pasta

Photo source

Since I've been in Italy, I've learned a lot about pasta. As you probably already know, Italians take their pasta very seriously, which is something that I'm completely okay with because I do too! I love pasta, and I don't think I could ever get sick of it...since I've been here I don't think more than three or four days has gone by where I didn't eat pasta in some form, and much to the dismay of many people back home I'm sure, not one single piece of whole wheat pasta has crossed my lips since I've been here. Yes folks, they're all about the real deal here, which means none of that whole wheat ridiculousness. Italians have clearly missed the memo about whole wheat being healthier for you, yet they're still more fit than Americans...makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Here are the most important things I've learned so far...

1. It is absolutely, 100% va bene (okay) to eat pasta daily -- in fact, this is actually encouraged. Most of the Italians I know eat pasta each day, usually for lunch.

2. When eating in a restaurant, if you get your pasta before everyone else at your table, dig in right away. (Technically this applies to not just pasta, but all foods served in restaurants, but for the sake of my list I'm including it.) When dining with some of my Italian friends a few weeks ago, they noticed me waiting for them to get their food, and they thought it was strange and encouraged me to mangia. Because Italians see food and eating as an art form, they want to ensure that food will be enjoyed properly, and eating pasta that's gotten cold while waiting for everyone else to get served is not acceptable.

3. Al dente is the only way to cook pasta here -- there's no getting around this one and there is no room for argument. The first time I ate out here and ordered a pasta dish, I was surprised for a minute at just how al dente it was cooked, but it definitely made it more enjoyable -- luckily, I've always preferred my pasta to be cooked al dente, even at home. The Italians' idea of al dente and Americans' idea of al dente is different, however...American al dente is pretty mushy compared to Italian al dente.

4. How do you know when pasta is done cooking?...Taste it! Luckily I've never known anyone who actually used the throw-the-pasta-against-the-wall method, but some people really do think that this is the proper way to tell when pasta is finished. If you told this to an Italian, they'd probably laugh in your face.

5. Spaghetti shalt not be broken in half as it enters the pot of boiling water. I don't really know why some people feel the need to do this, but it makes no sense and is completely unnecessary.

6. When dining in a restaurant, don't expect a doggy bag for your pasta (or any of your food.) This one is hard for me to get used to, since my stomach still has yet to learn how to keep up with the Italians' amazing ability to seemingly eat for hours and not get full. No matter how much I pace myself, I still get full quickly compared to Italians, yet I don't want to waste my food. I always wish I could just ask to have it wrapped up, but that wouldn't fly because Italians are all about freshness.

7. When salting your pasta water, only sale grosso will do. In Italy, this is a type of salt that is more like American sea salt, rather than table salt. I learned this the hard way last week when my Italian friends were cooking pasta for my roommates and me in our apartment and they looked at us in horror (literally) when they saw that we only had sale fino (fine, table it's only used to season food, not to cook with.) Lesson learned. (A separate post about this hilarious night will be written soon.)

8. The last, and perhaps most important thing I've learned about pasta during my time in Italy, is that I will definitely, without a doubt, be a pasta snob when I get home, and will probably scoff at American pasta for the rest of my life. To everyone who knows me...please don't take this personally when you witness it for the first time...but after living in Italy for four months, it would be kind of hard not to become picky at home. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. ;)

Also, just in case you were wondering what my favorite type of pasta is, it's Pappardelle...and if anyone decides that they would like to cook this for me when I get home (hint hint), I promise I won't scoff at it. ;)


Anonymous said...

Would I DARE cook pasta for you when you get home??? I think not...