Last week we attended one of the most beautiful weddings! From our hotel on the Amalfi coast we drove to a five-star accommodation, built amidst the ruins of a convent. The ceremony itself took place in the open air shell of the chapel ruins, overlooking the sea, on the cliffs of the Amalfi coast. Rose petals were strewn over the floor of the antica cappella.
Then, we moved to a cocktail reception on the terazzo overlooking the small fishing village and the Mediterranean sea. From here, the guests strolled down the steep hill on a paved-over donkey path to the piazza of the fishing village for a photo on the steps of the church and a gelato at a local gelateria.
We drove along the winding coastal street to the wedding party. This was held at the hotel nestled along the terraced hill of lemon trees and grapevines. The food was beyond beautiful, abundant, and cooked to perfection! We enjoyed everyone we met and dinner time conversation with new friends. Then, we danced the night away and into the early hours of the morning finishing with a three o’clock moon-lit dip in the pool on the lower terrace.
Coincidentally, when the clock struck midnight, Marco leaned over to me with a gentle kiss and said “happy anniversary”. . . it was the 17 years to the day that we met in Sweden! Which brings me back to this blog and the goal of learning from the Italian culture. The day before the wedding, we overheard some American tourists remarking upon the pasta section of the menu. “It’s just another pasta name, the shape doesn’t matter!”
The shape of the pasta does matter. At the restaurant, we chose a spaghetti con le vongole, spaghetti with clams. This is a simple dish with olive oil, garlic, clams, clam juice, salt, pepper, and parsley. This same dish would never be prepared with penne!
Spaghetti con le vongole at the Amalfi Coast
I asked Marco’s mother why the shape of the pasta is important and she said, “il formato della pasta conta!”. (The form of the pasta counts!) I asked her “why”? She said again, with even more animation, “il formato della pasta conta!”. No matter how many different ways I asked, she just repeated the same phrase. This is just one of those things that Italians just know, it’s in their blood, it is a part of their culture and heritage, passed down from years of cooks.
Mia suocera (mother-in-law) did elaborate. She said that it is important to use a pasta that goes with the sauce. She offered examples that are helpful. She said that a thin pasta like linguine or spaghetti is better with a sauce that has oil as a prominent ingredient, thus, the spaghetti con le vongole. A creamy sauce is good with a pasta which has a hole in it so that it can seep inside and add to the flavor; she gave ragu as an example. A larger solid pasta is good with a sauce that has larger pieces in it; she used farfalle for a pasta con gamberetti e zucchine.
Great cooking is both science and art. So, while Italians may agree with the principle of matching pasta with sauce, I found out that individual taste can still vary greatly. After dinner (during the “let it out” phase of our meal time – see the previous blog of that title), my suocero (father-in-law) shared his ideas about which shape is best. He prefers the shorter and thicker pasta shapes. Some of us stated a preference for the number 7 thickness of spaghetti while others preferred the number 5. My suocera argued for the longer thinner pasta shapes.
I suggest that you play around with the science and art of pasta shapes. At the beginning, follow the three guiding principles that my suocera presented above. Then, play around with the different shapes depending on the sauce that you make. Be creative with the process, listen to the opinions around your table, get excited about it, argue about them, and above all, enjoy your food. . . all the while remembering. . . that shape does matter!