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"Pasta: a small word for a universe of shapes"

"What’s so extraordinary about using food to understand a place and therefore a country and therefore the world and therefore humanity (without being overly ridiculous!) is that in Italy the continuous historic threads with food are so evident." Rachel Roddy

Initially, because it's been a very busy and accident prone day, I was more or less going to say, here's an interesting article - go read it, and more or less leave it at that, but then I decided I could write a tiny bit about the author and turn it into an A word from ... article.

I haven't done an A word from ... article for a very long time. I'd sort of run out of my favourite cooks. This is not quite one of them, but sort of. It's inspired by last week's Guardian newsletter and the article from Rachel Roddy, their correspondent in Rome, who has a column called A kitchen in Rome. It's always worth a look not just for the delicious food on show, but also for the writing because it's always more than just a recipe. It might be about an aspect of her life in Rome, the history of the dish she is describing, or something else entirely. But it's almost a100% of the time, worth reading.

She has lived in Rome for 14 or 15 years, - now with her partner Vincenzo and their young son. As well as writing for The Guardian, which she has done for a few years, she also had her own blog rachel eats although it looks as though this has been abandoned as the last post was in 2019. Maybe she will come back to it sometime and anyway there is lots of interest there. She has also published various cookbooks and this week's Guardian column was really a promotion of her latest - Rachel Roddy's A-Z of Pasta. (This is the link to the column not the book.) Now I don't have any of her books, so I have no idea really what they might be like. I mean how much more can be said about pasta? But I thought a quick look at what she was trying to do might be interesting.

Well in spite of the title it seems that it's not really a definitive A-Z of pasta. The actual number of pasta shapes in existence seems to vary from 1300 (which includes all the different regional names for one particular shape) down to somewhere between 300 and 600. Hundreds anyway and they are still inventing them. With patents. A dilemma because others have taken the encyclopaedic approach before. I found an interview in which she tries to explain what she has done:

"Well first of all, there are 350 to 600 pasta shapes with 1,300 identified names, so how on earth do you tell a story of pasta? It’s very, very hard to find patterns, and even when you do they’re sort of confusing, with so much cross-contamination and so many hundreds of strands and influences. What’s more, the story of pasta is not linear at all, despite what some people would have you believe. ... I decided I would tell 50 stories about 50 shapes, which would fit together like a jigsaw to form a story (which is not to say the be all and end all definitive guide) of pasta.)"

The Guardian article is made up of brief extracts from some as this one for the letter G.


The idea that you need to buy special equipment to make pasta is not just a shame, it’s at odds with the nature of pasta. Looking back at the evolution of shapes, we find the results of hands working with everyday objects. Sheets rolled with a bottle; caved, ridged shapes made by rolling lumps of dough against baskets; hollows in a rope created by an umbrella spoke; edges of parcels sealed with the twist of a glass; ridged tubes formed by rolling a square of soft, flour-and-egg dough obliquely over a comb, and around the handle of a wooden spoon to make garganelli."

I imagine that this particular section would go on to describe more of these, and also to provide recipes for some.

And looking at that picture makes me rueful yet again that Aldi's promised special last Wednesday of various pasta maker helpers - including the one shown above - didn't make it to our store last week - or else they sold out as soon as they hit the store. I shall have to look elsewhere. Although I guess you could improvise with a griddle pan, now that I look at it.

But back to Rachel Roddy because she had a couple more things to say about Italian cooking and cooking in general that I thought worth quoting and which will make it more like an A word from ... article. The first one is very apt because it's connected to the cultural appropriation theme I have been a bit fixated on of late:

"Oretta Zanini De Vita was a great Italian food writer, she wrote The Encyclopedia of Pasta which is a masterpiece, and spent years and years travelling all over Italy recording oral history and delving into old cookbooks. She eventually came to the conclusion that really any shape goes with any sauce, and that anybody who is saying anything otherwise is overthinking."

"The point is that all of those things – from grandmas to checked tablecloths to old men in piazzas to coffee to ice cream – they’re all absolutely true. The problem with them is that they become a lie when that’s the only view you look at. That’s the problem with any cliché, when it stops us seeing beyond them."

A quickie post that doesn't say very much I guess. Apologies. Do read her article though - there were a few more interesting little bits and pieces in there.

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