International Day of Italian Cuisines

THE COURAGE OF MAKING THE AUTHENTIC SPAGHETTI AL DENTE WITH TOMATO SAUCE AND BASIL

by Rosario Scarpato


Marco Sacco

An Italian Chef, a friend of mine, working far from Italy, wrote to me that in his opinion Spaghetti with tomato and Basil are not strong enough – as a dish - to stimulate the palate, the senses and the imagination of food lovers. According to him, it’s not a dish capable of making the foodies to dream. I know this chef, I respect him, he is a good professional and not a chef wasting his time after foams and other frivolous culinary inventions, those inventions – by the way – that condemn to agony and often to death many Michelin starred restaurants. I answered him that he was wrong: spaghetti with tomato sauce are the dream of Italian Cuisine, the magic of a mix of ingredients, wisdom and history that a very few other dishes in the world have. Unfortunately this dish is manipulated, tormented and crucified almost everywhere. And here – sorry for the immodesty- I speak as a food critic who has literally turned the world over the past 25 years: 80% of chefs do not know make a dish of spaghetti, al dente (to begin with) with tomato sauce and basil. All around the world I saw both aberrations made by Italians and crimes against humanity, perpetrated by foreigners, all labelled with the name of this dish.

In order not to offend him, I told my friend the Chef that he doesn't see this dish as exciting because maybe his spaghetti al pomodoro and basilico are already the best in the world: he perhaps uses handcrafted Italian pasta, to which he matches special flavourful piennolo tomatoes from Vesuvius and chooses extra virgin olive oils made to marry exclusively his spaghetti. Maybe he makes them with rare basil flown in from Pra (Genova – Liguria). If that’s the case, I understand him: his lucky customers will not get excited by spaghetti al pomodoro, 'cause they have the good fortune to know his. However, believe me, in the rest of the world things go in a totally different way. The bulk of what you see in circulation is just disgraceful and dishonourable versions of spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil. If one walks only 500 meters in any street near Times Square in New York can find hundred of examples. I am talking about New York City, where the Italian Cuisine heritage is very strong, not Mumbai or Bangkok. The truth is that the vast majority of chefs who make spaghetti with tomato sauce have never eaten the authentic ones made with outstanding ingredients.

The simple act of cooking spaghetti is an art itself. And it requires great technique and research. I never would have imagined, for example, that I would learn how from Chef Marco Sacco, in a cooking class in Moscow, where both Russian journalists´ and Italian jaws dropped. Marco Sacco is a two Michelin star chef, not from the South, not from Naples (the capital of Spaghetti al Pomodoro), but from Mergozzo, Lake Maggiore: on research, innovation and creativity he is second to none and he cooks traditional spaghetti "perfectly". So, of what lack of emotions are we talking about? The next 17 January 2014, on the day of IDIC – International Day of Italian Cuisines, cook spaghetti with tomato sauce with quality ingredients, put the best of yourself as a cook in each of these seemingly simple dishes, and you will see that food lovers at any latitude will not forget them so easily. Making spaghetti with tomato sauce as they should be, in this day and age, in Italy and outside, is a real challenge. It takes courage and perhaps not everyone has it. So, a big cheer to all the brave chefs who are going to put spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil in their menus on next January 17, 2014, in the seventh edition of the International Day of Italian Cuisine.