Pasta and Coffee
Pizzahut and Starbucks do not figure among the many international companies with subsidiaries in Rome. Pizza, pasta and coffee and different in Italy from anywhere else. Better, according to the Italians. In their opinion, coffee has got no taste in most countries outside Italy and pasta gets systematically messed in the hands of non-Italians. Here`s an overview of how Italians think their cherished culinary masterpieces are supposed to be prepared and presented.
First of all, not all shapes of pasta are suitable for all sorts of sauces. Secondly, sauce and pasta are supposed to be mixed before being served. Third, pasta is supposed to be eaten with a fork only. Usage of spoons is unpreferred, knives are strictly forbidden. Finally, pasta is not to be used as a base for salads and it only constitutes an entire meal when eaten for lunch.
`Only strong coffee is good coffee`
Frederica (31) explains me how short pasta - group name Macheroni with subspecies Rigatone and Penne - are used for dishes including light sauces or tomato-only. Long pasta like Linguine and Spaghetti are more suitable for dishes that encompass fish, meat or pesto. When buying ready-made sauces in the supermarket, the jar label usually prescribes the best pasta shape to go with the sauce. `Eating the `wrong` pasta type with a certain sauce, or the other way around, feels very unnatural to an Italian`, Federica says.
All different pasta shapes are numbered for quick recognition. Leading brand De Cecco specifies Linguine as 7, Spaghetti as 12. The catalog must be pretty substantial, as numbers run as high as 440 for Mezze Penne Lisce. Each has a different cooking time, and, according to the Italians, a different taste. Cooking the pasta in the right way is an art in itself. Frederica lived in France for a few years, and used to be fairly dissatisfied with the French method of cooking pasta: `Everybody who is not Italy usually cooks pasta for too long. We like our pasta al dente, not porridge-style. When us Italians prepare pasta, we boil it for two to three minutes less than whatever the package indicates. We prepare the sauce in a different pan, then add the pasta to the sauce and cook it for the remaining few minutes. Everything is mixed and equally hot when it`s served.`
Rafaele (26) agrees that some pastas don`t go with some sauces. `I like to invert things, so I first choose the shape of pasta and only afterwards decide on the sauce.` Apart from shapes and sauces, there are also different options for the pasta brands. Both Rafaele and Frederica think that De Cecco is the best industrially produced pasta brand. It has a longer cooking time than the alternative Barilla brand, and is made of a superiour grain type. Again, cooking times need to be watched closely.
Many Italians eat pasta every day, but it hardly ever serves as an entire meal. Except for quick weekday lunches, pasta is usually considered the first half of the core meal. For anything longer, pasta is served as an intermediary plate between the entry and the secondi piatto, the main dish, which consists of meat and vegetables.
Coffee, coffee and coffee
Italians are as picky with coffee as they are with pasta. The most common Italian coffee type is Espresso which comes in versions ristretto (extremely strong) lungo (less strong than average) and is served in a tiny cup. Espresso alone accounts for 60% of the number of cups of coffee sold in Italy. Cappuccino is coffee with milk foam in a bigger cup. Macchiato also contains milk and it`s served in a long glass. Latte Macchiato is similar to Macchiato but with even more milk. For fans of alcoholic coffee variants, there`s Corretto: coffee that can contain anything from Grappa to Whisky. There are as many preferences for coffee type as there are people, with the continuous consumption throughout the day as the main common denominator.
Giovanni (31, photo) quite well fits the stereotype of an Italian having coffee for breakfast. `I will have an espresso in the early morning to wake up, then maybe a cappuccino at 11 in the morning. In the late afternoon or after a meal, there`s room for another espresso.
Giovanni is only marginally impressed by coffee from anywhere outside Italy: `It France, it`s horrible, in England, it`s like water. Austria is not good either. Only strong coffee is good coffee.` Marco (25) only ran into tasty coffee in Brazil, while Spain was acceptable and Germany horrible. Like many Italians, Marco usually takes breakfasts in a bar. The full-range meal consists of nothing but a cappuccino and a brioche-type piece of pastry. The pastry is supposed to be soaked into the coffee before being consumed. `I have it at 7 or 8 in the morning at a bar, before going to work`, Marco says, `it takes about 5 minutes, people don`t even sit down. Then off to work.`
Because of this outdoor breakfast tradition, Italian coffee bars open very early in the morning, sometimes even before 6 o`clock. Since most people are in a hurry when they come by, there`s not much socialising at these hours. Some people have a brief glance at a newspaper, but most of them walk straight out once they downed the coffee.`
Coffee consumption is interrupted by the aperitivo hour which roughly starts at 7 in the evening. It`s a much more social event than the speedy breakfasts in bars. Aperitivo is followed by dinner, which may optionally be followed by another coffee to complete the day. Only to start the next day with another shot of black gold.
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