Sophia Loren once said that “everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. It’s a maxim that could well apply to a nation. Virtually every person in the country, whatever their generation, whatever their background, has grown up with spaghetti. A collective memory, spaghetti is intrinsic to the national psyche. It is one of the few great unifying forces in a country of regional dialects.
A few miles from where I live, just outside
Parma, there’s a huge Barilla pasta factory.
As we return from a long journey, it looms up from the side of the road like a
beacon and I know we are minutes from home. A few years back Barilla launched
an advertising campaign with the catchphrase ‘Dové C’é Barilla, C’è Casa’ – where there is Barilla, there’s home.
Like all good advertising campaigns it bore more than a modicum of truth. The
sentimental chord struck by the advertisement was the notion that pasta and
home are somehow synonymous.
I never did eat spaghetti freshly picked from the spaghetti tree (see my last post) – I just assumed it wasn’t in season. But that never stopped my mother. On the annual family pilgrimage from the north of
Ireland down to the south of Italy my mother would always pack a few packets
of spaghetti in the boot of the car for the trip – enough to get us from Belfast to the outskirts of Naples. At the time it never occurred to me
how odd we must have looked to other motorists passing by: three children
sitting around a fold-up table in a lay-by somewhere on the other side of
Dublin watching as my mother, stooped over a camper’s stove, ladled spaghetti onto plastic plates while my
father grated pecorino cheese directly over the top. We were eating spaghetti
cacio e pepe (the classic spaghetti with pecorino and pepper), but to my
brother, sister and I at the time, it was just ‘spaghetti cheese’.
Spaghetti was just as much a part of my childhood as bedtime stories, the school playground and Saturday night baths. We must have looked every bit the mangiamaccheroni – macaroni eaters – who used to eat spaghetti with their hands on the streets of
Naples (we used forks, of course!). The
invention of the mechanised press in the latter part of the 18th
century meant that dried pasta, for the first time, could be produced in large
quantities and at lower cost. The population of Naples was rising rapidly and the people were
hungry. In a few short years, pasta secca
(dried pasta) became the symbol of the city. It was cucina povera (poor people’s food) for the masses. In 1840 the
first industrial pasta plant opened in Torre Annunziata,
just south of Naples.
A few years later, in 1844, the first recipe for pasta with a tomato sauce
appeared in a Neapolitan cookbook.