In the Beginning…
Ever wonder about the origins of some of your favourite Italian dishes? With some help from the Pasta Fresca team, we delved into the history books to feast on a little folklore.
Translated as “angry” in English, this sauce’s name is a nod to the heat that arises from the recipe’s generous use of red chilli peppers. Combined with garlic, tomatoes, olive oil and parsley, it’s best paired with penne or another ridged tubular pasta that really soaks up the sauce to deliver a mouthful of fire.
Order Bolognese sauce in Bologna, and you’ll likely be greeted with a confused stare. There, this meat-based pasta sauce is known simply as ragù, and the first known mention of it dates back to 18th-century Imola, a city close to Bologna. If you’re after a meaty tomato sauce in Italy, it’s best to order ragù alla Bolognese,but even this may bear little resemblance to the bowl of Bolognese you are used to back home.
When Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo informed the owner of Venice’s Harry’s Bar that her vegetarian doctor had recommended a strict diet of raw meat, the kitchen churned out thin slices of raw beef dressed with a French Dijon mustard sauce, just for her. Giuseppe Cipriani, the bar owner, thought the dish resembled the paintings of Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio, hence the name.
These soft, bite-sized dumplings are thought to derive from either nocchio, meaning a knot in wood, or nocca, meaning knuckle. Many countries have their own versions of dumplings, but each is thought to connect back to the gnocchi introduced during the Roman Empire. The older style made from semolina can still be found but, today, potato-based ones dominate.
A dish of the working poor, this dish was originally just rice, broth and whatever else was in the cupboard. Today’s more upscale versions date back to the 19th century. We’re not sure when the use of Arborio rice became de rigueur, though.
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Any dish that literally translates as “whore-style spaghetti” must have a good backstory, but legends about how this Neapolitan pasta dish got its name vary as much as the dish itself. Some say the city’s harlots used the dish to entice their customers into buying more than just pasta. Another story suggests that its roots are in post-World War II Ischia, where respectable women served it only to men with whom they were having affairs.
Rather morbidly, this cheese and vegetable dumpling dish translates as “priest strangler”. Some say that’s because a portly priest wolfed down the pasta with such fervour that he choked to death. Others say that when the meal was cooked as payment owed to the Church, husbands would be so angered by other men eating their wives’ cooking that they hoped the clergy would choke on it.
This ring-shaped, stuffed pasta from the Emilia region is also sometimes referred to as umbellico or “belly button”, for good reason. Legend has it that when the beautiful Lucrezia Borgia checked into a Modena inn, the innkeeper could not resist peeking inside her room through the keyhole. Luckily for her, he only caught a glimpse of her navel, which inspired him to cook up the first known plate of tortellini that night.
Nearly all of these dishes are available at Pasta Fresca, which has six locations across the island.
Looking for an Italian dessert recipe? Try this tiramisu recipe, courtesy of Michelangelo’s.