Apparently, there are more than 250 pasta shapes available but I have no idea why.
I’m sure someone set themselves the task of sampling every single pasta shape and has probably written about it. Me? I’m happy to stick to the five or six I enjoy regularly because of my strong associations with them.
One of my favourites is maccheroni as it reminds me of the time my mother was hired for a cooking demonstration in a Sydney CBD department store in the late 1950s. Home-cooked pasta was unheard of among non-Italians and the store was keen to introduce it to shoppers. I was maybe four or five and remember going with her to the store with a family friend (my father was working). I helped her distribute the paper plates of pasta straight from pots of boiling water, topped with meat sauce (ragu) she’d prepared earlier. My mother spoke little English, so there was a translator on hand, but it didn’t seem to matter as the shoppers lapped it up. What concerns me, however, is the way I was allowed – as a young child – near the hot pots’n’pans and stove. Ah, those wacky days before OH&S took over.
I like mafaldine too, which also brings back memories from the early 1960s and I can picture the long curly pasta strands covered in homemade tomato sauce flying through the air. A landlady without a great food repertoire ran the boarding house next door. She fed the six 20-something men – recently migrated from Italy – the same dinner every night. After the fourth day in a row of pasta, the men rebelled and the meal – pot and all – was hurled by the woman from the kitchen window into the backyard in disgust. Their loss was the pet dog’s gain.
Occasionally I’ll still cook creste di gallo (roosters’ combs) just to hear my grandfather’s voice denouncing them to my grandmother as shaped “like old folks’ dentures”.
But usually I reach for spaghetti, despite my first school kid trauma of discovering a tuck shop spaghetti sandwich was not the same as mamma made at home: what WAS this gluggy, sweet, orange coloured baby food?
Think about the steamy kitchen sink scene in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment when Jack Lemmon prepares dinner for Shirley Maclaine and strains the pasta over a tennis racquet. “You’re pretty good with that racquet” she says. Lemmon replies “Wait till you see me serve the meatballs!”
Or the spaghetti-eating scene with the two besotted dogs in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.
But the last word goes to Walter Matthau (Oscar) in Neil Simon’s 1967 bachelor fest The Odd Couple during a nasty fight when he throws Felix’s freshly cooked plate of spaghetti (or linguine)* and sauce against a kitchen wall, where it slides down, strand by strand. That image just wouldn’t be the same with bow-tie or shell-shaped pasta.
* Watch the ‘Odd Couple’ clip for the spaghetti v linguine tussle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDXSXkYoM5Y
Lose yourself in the definitive Guide to Pasta Shapes