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Mario is my Italian Food God, despite his personal short-comings (I know some storieeeees…), and he said last week on his new Serious Eats webcast video short “Unclogged” (can’t decide if it’s a hip move for him, or if it smacks of “desperate to get back in front of a camera since I’ve been banished from the Food Network” move) that Americans overcook their pasta (duh) and over-sauce it too. He says that for perfectly-sauced pasta, every strand is gently touched by the sauce, none of it served without the compliment of the luscious grease of puttenesca/ pomodoro/ pesto, etc. He says sauces are condiments; they should dress the pasta with the light touch of Issey Miyake, not the heavy-handed, couture approach of John Galliano. What you should really taste, Mario says, is the quality of the wheat of the pasta. It’s the star, not the chorus for the other ingredients.
But then, in The Times, Mark Bittman (THE MINIMALIST, for God’s Sake!) says: flip the script and use more vegetable-based sauce, less pasta for a perfect dish. The controversy RAGES! And I’m caught contemplating my stance on the carbonara: carb ratio showdown. Hmmm…
On the one hand, Bittman’s historic, socio-economic read on the gourmet conundrum makes sense to me—he protests that a once-impoverished rural Italian community has lead copycats all over the globe to prefer the empty calories of dried pasta to those of hearty, healthy vegetables, and he says, “As the years went by… a kind of ‘if it’s Italian, it must be good’ mentality developed here, and home cooks began enjoying pasta with a minimum of sauce.”
On the other hand, Mario has that authoritative red beard. And what he says about Italian food looks like it comes from experience. Also, his spaghetti carbonara at Otto makes more than my mouth water, if you know what I mean.
So I think this is where I fall on the pasta/ sauce continuum: I love fresh vegetables and sausages and herbs (from my rooftop garden), so when I’m eating a little healthier or feeling compelled to compose a dish from some fantastic Greenmarket finds, I think I’ll sauce it up recklessly and let the wheat take second fiddle without worrying too much about my fidelity to Italian authenticity. But. When I want pasta…great pasta…unadulterated noodles for the sake of noodles…strand upon strand or quill upon quill of the stuff made best in Gragnano…I’ll have no problem tucking into a steaming bowl of fettuccini alfredo, made by my own hand, of course, and sucking down every ribbon with silky abandon. It’ll all be for the integrity of authentic eating!
Anybody want to weigh in on the dispute? Or cook me some sex in the form of a perfect capellini pomodoro?