We have a branch potluck tonight at Church. I’m making pizza. I don’t normally make pizza for Italians, but less than half the branch is actually Italian, so I’ve convinced myself I can get away with it just this once. But I never make pasta for Italians. Never. I made this resolution years ago, and it was strengthened the other day when Tony came home from work. He had been discussing food with a coworker (yes, this is one of the most common topics of conversation in Italy), and mentioned that he ate pasta for lunch every day. His coworker asked who made the pasta, and upon being told it was I, asked if I made good pasta. Tony (good husband that he is) replied that I did make good pasta, and his coworker shook his head in relief and remarked how difficult it is to make good pasta.
Now in the United States pasta (sadly, often in its degenerate form of Mac and Cheese) is considered one of the easiest meals to make. In fact, I had often thought it unfortunate that Strega Nona’s pasta pot made such a prosaic dish. What a waste of magic! Little did I know the value of a perfect pot of pasta. In Italy, cooking pasta is a fine art, and the compliment that Tony so cavalierly bestowed upon me was unfortunately undeserved. Of the ten commandments of pasta making, on any given day I break at least half.
1. Thou shalt use at least three liters of water (but it takes so long to boil, and if I use less water and stir it every once in a while, it doesn’t stick together, honest).
2. Thou shalt salt the pasta water (honestly, I can’t tell the difference between pasta cooked in salted water and pasta cooked in fresh water. This is yet another evidence that I am not Italian).
3. Thou shalt not overcook the pasta (what’s al dente? I like my pasta mushy).
4. Thou shalt drain the pasta immediately (what if I forgot to get the strainer ready, and then I find that the children have used it today as a helmet and it’s half full of mud out in the yard?).
5. Thou shalt serve the pasta immediately (see above, because the pasta server has also been commandeered as a sword).
6. Thou shalt not add olive oil to keep it from sticking together (that’s what commandments 1 and 3 are for).
7. Thou shalt not drown the pasta in sauce (now, this one is not my fault. My family likes a lot of sauce).
8. Thou shalt use each of the different shapes of pasta with the correct type of sauce (I can never remember if a thin sauce is supposed to be used with long, thin pasta because then it won’t sink to the bottom of the plate, or with small, hollow pasta because then it will fill up all the holes. Or if they were actually other reasons entirely . . . )
I blush crimson to admit that these last few sins would never enter the darkest dreams of a fine upstanding Italian, and thus have never actually been prohibited me. But my conscience tells me they are even more unnatural than the previous ones.
9. Thou shalt not use up the last of all the different shapes of pasta by cooking them together.
10. Thou shalt not pour the sauce on straight from the refrigerated bottle.
Oh no. That’s already ten? I haven’t even confessed my worst!
11. Thou shalt NOT even keep, let alone ever ever serve, leftover pasta. (I won’t mention the fact that I sometimes reheat said leftover pasta by pouring it back in the strainer and running hot water over it. Shameless.)
If you are a sinner like me (but more repentant), here’s an eleven-step guide to boiling pasta http://www.annamariavolpi.com/how_to_cook_pasta.html.