So, while wreaking foody havoc in the kitchen at Chez Booker, I got to mulling over what foods I like to eat regularly and why that is.
Then, looking at a pot of water bubbling away, I realised. Pasta.
Pasta, pasta, pasta. An ultimate comfort food. Even a simple dish of spaghetti served with olive oil, garlic and chillies is delicious. It’s simple, healthy, nutritious and versatile, and a great ‘fast food’, because it’s quick to cook and the best sauces are uncomplicated and equally speedy to make – while the pasta is cooking in one pot, the sauce is bubbling away in another! Pasta is a meal in itself and most recipes don’t require a lengthy preparation. The variety is simultaneously engaging and intriguing, with a pasta shape, colour and recipe for each day of the year and more!
And, contrary to some uneducated spoilsport numpties out there, their belief that pasta is stodgy and lethargy-inducing is downright rubbish. An excellent example of this delusion and its consequences is that of Benito Mussolini. Old Benny, or Il Duce to his minions – tried to ban pasta, claiming that it made people fat and sluggish. Not unnaturally, the populace at large took umbrage at this, and Benny eventually met his end swinging from a lamppost and partaking in a spot of post mortem water sports at the hands (or rather, the feet) of some very pissed off women. Accent on the word ‘pissed’. Go look it up. AND USE A BOOK FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, NOT GOOGLE…
With recipes such as Carluccio’s ‘Cart-driver Spaghetti’, and Spaghetti alla Vongole, it’s as light, fresh and summery as you like. Some experts claim pasta is not only healthy and nutritious but also boosts serotonin levels, a substance associated with feelings of peace and contentment. Nigella Lawson likes it slathered in Marmite and goes for a cheeky translation of it ‘alla puttanesca’; Rick Stein’s keen on carbonara (the classic Italian version without cream, thank you); while Nigel Slater makes it with a mean mustardy sausage sauce. Speaking of sauces Gentle Reader, they also vary greatly region to region. In Southern Italy, for example, flavours are stronger, with lots of garlic and chilli; by the sea, sauces are fish-based; and in Northern Italy sauces tend to be more delicate and creamy. The north is also famous for filled pastas, like ravioli and tortellini.
So why do we love pasta so much? It’s versatile: tomatoey or creamy sauces can create the base to all kinds of different dishes. Dried pasta has a long-shelf life and often makes the most of other store cupboard ingredients like tinned tomatoes, olives, anchovies, chorizo or frozen peas. Even when the wind and rain roar their anger outside, we can still experience a little Italian romance and sunshine in our kitchens, and smile beatifically.
And so ends my ode to pasta. How much more convincing do you need, peeps? I’m probably telling you things that you already know, but hey, what’s a little sharing between friends, eh? And exiting stage left, I’m off into the kitchen to finish the dish, pour a nice glass of chilled Chablis, and indulge in a spot of culinary pigging-out.
Arrividerci, amici miei!