From the pages of Eatstreets

Author: Oretta Zanini de Vita

Publisher: University of Californi

RRP: $49.95

Encyclopedia of Pasta

01 December 2009.
Reviewed by John Newton

It was General Charles de Gaulle who pointed out the difficulty of  governing a country that made more than 300 cheeses. And when you try to govern a nation that makes more than 1200 different shapes of pasta, what do you get? Silvio Berlusconi.

I got that number by adding up the names of all the pasta varieties in the index of this beautifully bound and designed book by Oretta Zanini de Vita (Oretta — isn’t that a type of pasta shaped like a tiny coin?), which will be the object of desire for any serious Italian food buff this Christmas.

Meticulously translated from the Italian (by Maureen B Fant) and written with humour and scholarship, it examines the history of pasta, along the way offering little tit-bits like the fact that Casanova, the legendary Italian lover (who makes Berlusconi look monogamous), would get cranky if he was not given his daily dish of maccheroni.

De Vita rejects the theory that pasta as we know it today — that is, dried pasta made from durum wheat — originated with the Arabs in Sicily (first mentions of it are in Sicily around the 12th century) for her scholarly contention that “the origin of pasta is not Italian (shock horror!) not Greek, not Jewish, not Arab. It spread through the Mediterranean at a stage that could be called endemic, with probability of contagion along the Silk Road, seeing that the Chinese have been called in as possible progenitors, albeit erroneously”.

A word of caution for recipe-aholics. There are none. Instead, for each type of pasta you are given ingredients, how it is made, alternative names, how it is served and where it comes from — the precise region or even town or village.

But from that serving suggestion, you can — and you should — invent your own recipes. Free yourself from the tyranny of 200g of this and 2¼ cups of that as handed down by some dictatorial denizen of the kitchen. Do as the Italians do and throw in a handful of this a pinch of that and a scrunch of the other.

This delicious book blends both sides of the Italian
character: the wacky food obsessive that can name a pasta-shape “priest strangler” (strozzapreti) and the meticulous finicky side that gives us superbly designed and engineered everything — including pasta.

(Available from Florilegium, 65 Derwent Street Glebe 9571 8222

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