Pasta, pasta, pasta – this dish, whether spaghetti, penne or orecchiette, has become an integral part of the German menu. It is so ingrained in our culinary DNA that most of us eat Italian pasta dishes daily. At the beginning of the corona pandemic, when the most anxious of us began to fill up with emergency supplies, pasta and toilet paper in particular were quickly sold out. So you could say: For us Germans, pasta is at least as important as a clean butt. And make you at least as happy.
Do you remember the menu cards at the first Italian restaurants – it started in the 1960s, in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s. You used to find endless dishes there. Carbonara, Bolognese and many others. And they all had different names depending on the host and origin. For example, when I was studying in Munich, my favorite Italian had a dish called “Finanzamt al forno”. As a nod to the creative accounting practices of the time (and some still do today), it was nothing more strange than sautéed cannelloni with ground beef and tomato sauce.
Today, most pizzerias also have a significantly reduced range. Even the corner Italian now follows the golden rule of gastronomy: the smaller the menu, the better the dishes. This rule is of course always correct and for me at least as true as: A lot of butter, very good! In recent years, Italians have focused more and more on the quality of raw materials and the best craftsmanship. We are very happy about that, but we also lack some dishes.
Spaghetti carbonara experienced a hype after 2000
Just the delicious simple pasta dishes cucina povera, ie the kitchen of the peasants and the poor, this cuisine from southern Italy which is loved all over the world, has meanwhile been somewhat forgotten. Fortunately, not quite yet. Sometimes some dishes celebrate a kind of renaissance from time to time, for example, the Roman pasta Cacio e Pepe is currently extremely popular in the “Berlin foodie scene”. She feels like spaghetti carbonara a few years ago.
We children still know them, the German version of the heavy Holzköhler pasta: It was cooked with cooked ham and a lot of cream and was also served in Italian restaurants from Stuttgart to Kiel. However, we Kåkborgers only learned at the beginning of the millennium that they are actually cooked without cream and cooked ham and instead with dried pork cheeks (guanciale) and an emulsion of pasta water and eggs. Today we know all the carbonara varieties and have cooked them upside down. And so the carbonara is disappearing more and more from the menus of hip Italians.
Basically, the hype surrounding cacio e pepe, the slim little sister of kolpasta, is almost over, but you can still find a recipe for it below, because no pasta is as light as this. Even half-rotten and ancient parmesan or pecorino shells can still lead you to a party here.
The first McDonalds branch in Italy opened in 1986
But back to the huge variety of Italian cuisine. There are countless types of pasta only, and almost every village has a local specialty. When the very first signs showed that the Italian culinary tradition could be on the verge, the Italians defended themselves vigorously. When the first McDonald’s branch opened in Rome in 1986, also in the historic Piazza Navona, the Italians burst their necks. Similar to later when Starbucks tried to open a coffee branch in Milan; but that is another story of well-fortified Italy.
Even before the American hamburger chain attacked Rome, the Piedmontese Carlo Petrini and friends had founded “Arcigola” at the castle Fontanafredda, known for its fantastic Barolo, the seed of what is now the world-famous slow food movement. The opening of a fast food store in the heart of Rome was the stumbling block! The movement now has around 80,000 members worldwide, most in Europe. And even though the McDonald’s branch opened in Rome, it has long since disappeared. However, there is a branch in central Rome: in Piazza di Spagna, just below the Spanish Steps. Yes Yes!
On a trip to Italy in the summer of 2002, I took two books with me. The Michelin guide, indispensable for chefs and aspiring connoisseurs, and the culinary guide “Osterie d’Italia”, published annually by the slow food movement. It quickly became clear that the Michelin guide could not even begin to hold a candle to the Italian guide. So I ate through some of the most beautiful taverns in Italy for three whole weeks and was simply satisfied with all the fantastic dishes and culinary styles in this natural and authentic cuisine.
You can get pasta ingredients for less than one euro
I especially remember a completely unexpected, fantastic “Caffè” (espresso) in Florence, an “Est! Est !! Est !!!”, it is a sparkling white wine from the province of Viterbo in Montefiascone (Lazio) and all the delicious pasta dishes that were available Later, I deepened my experiences during various stays in Florence, Turin and Rome, and time and time again I came to the realization that it is above all the pasta that, besides all the beautiful Italian joy of life and the charming chaos, is responsible for the country global success. Mille grace Italia for this gift!
But now to the promised recipes. We have decided to present three recipes that are comparable to the classics. Instead of the Bolognese sauce – of which there are as many German varieties in Germany as this country has inhabitants, namely more than 83 million – we want to make Bucatini all’Amatriciana, instead of a Carbonara there is the previously mentioned Cacio e Pepe, and we replaces puttanesca with a simple spaghetti alla Siciliana. All recipes are easy to make, and the ingredients can be found for pennies. After all, everyone can afford Italian pasta dishes. When I studied, spaghetti for 36 cents, low-priced tomatoes for 30 cents and an old garlic for 20 cents were enough for me to cook an acceptable meal for two people for one euro.
Let’s start with our classics! And the nice thing is: All recipes only take as long as the pasta cooks. For all pasta sauces are made while the pasta is cooking. So you always have about 10 minutes on you, depending on what kind of pasta you use.
Recipe: Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Ingredients: Bucatini (like spaghetti, with only one hole in the middle), tomato sauce (please use good quality!), Guanciale (if you are unsure, pancetta, lardo or dried ham will do), garlic, pecorino, fresh peppers, salt, pepper ( from the mill).
Preparation: Put the bucatini in plenty of salted boiling water. Of course, it must taste as salty as the sea off Forte dei Marmi. You know, as salty as the water is, the pasta becomes just as salty. Then taste the boiling water.
Cut the guancial into fine sticks (in the right size, about 5 millimeters wide and high and 2 centimeters long). Okay, that’s stuffy. Cut the bacon however you like. Fry the dice in a pan until crispy (pay attention to temperature management!). You actually do not need oil, because the guancial has enough fat. When everything is nice and crispy, place the crispy sticks on a kitchen towel. They will return later.
Sweat a little garlic and pepperoni briefly in the fat in the pan and then add a generous amount of tomato sauce. Let everything simmer until the noodles are almost done. These are prepared with a ladle of boiling water in the sauce in the pan. When the noodles are ready, add the crunchy guancial. Then place on a plate, add a pinch of pepper and a generous amount of grated pecorino. Complete.
Recipe: Pasta Cacio and Pepe
Ingredients: Spaghetti (real spaghetti!), Pecorino, ground pepper (in this case fine and coarse), salt.
Preparation: This dish is sometimes glorified as a kind of art, but it is a very simple and equally old recipe for Roman cuisine. In my circle of friends, we often talk about “crises” when it comes to food problems. I recently had a jam crisis, which means I was completely desperate because all the jam tasted so boring. Another friend had a Cacio-e-Pepe crisis. He could not get the sauce to have the perfect consistency for several weeks. The cheese always peeled off. He needed to take a break and relax. This is not going to happen to you. Because you are relaxed.
Then put the spaghetti in the boiling water, the same game as above. Now grate copious amounts of pecorino in a large bowl. The bowl must be large enough for the pasta to fit later. Then add the pepper. When the pasta is al dente, place it in the bowl with the pecorino pepper mixture. NOTE – here the noodles are cooked to the end in the pot! With residual heat of the plate. Mix everything well, for example with two forks. Then add a little of the boiling water gradually and continue to mix. Soon a velvety, almost creamy sauce is made from the starch of the noodles, the hot boiling water and the cheese. Complete! It’s so easy.
Spaghetti alla Siciliana
Ingredients: Spaghetti (you know …), olive oil, anchovies, olives (green and black), capers, breadcrumbs (homemade: mix old bread and fry in butter until brown), garlic.
Preparation: The spaghetti is boiled in salted water. Meanwhile, toast the breadcrumbs in a pan until crispy. In another pan, lightly sweat the garlic in olive oil, then add the anchovies from the jar (the Italian ones are often milder than the Spanish ones from Asturias). Then provide capers and olives (pitted olives are recommended, halve them if desired). Now the pasta is ready and we add it with a splash of boiling water. Mix everything well, place on a plate and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Like most Italian dishes, this dish comes alive thanks to the quality of the ingredients!
Tip: I would recommend a white wine to all my pasta dishes. Take the opportunity and try an “Est! Est !! Est !!! ” If you are lucky, you may find a wine merchant who can even tell the story of this wine of the same name, which is very entertaining!
Felix Hanika was first an investment banker, then he did an apprenticeship as a chef at the Hotel & Restaurant Bareiss in the Black Forest. For eight years he cooked at the best restaurants in the world. He regularly publishes his favorite recipes in the weekend edition of the Berliner Zeitung.
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This text appeared in the weekend edition of the Berliner Zeitung – every Saturday in the kiosk or here as a subscription.