cover image A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce

A Short History of Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce

Massimo Montanari, trans. from the Italian by Gregory Conti. Europa, $18 (128p) ISBN 978-1-60945-709-9

Food historian Montanari (Let the Meatballs Rest) “reflect[s] on the meaning of roots, identities, and origins” in this illuminating examination of one of the world’s most famous culinary pairings. Readers should be warned—this is not light reading, but rather a rigorous exploration of prevalent beliefs, whether accurate or not, connected to the ingredients that make up the revered coupling of spaghetti and tomato sauce. Many will be surprised to learn that pasta was invented in the Middle East around 10,000–12,000 years ago as a derivation of unleavened bread cut into flattened strips similar to tagliatelle, and that Marco Polo did not introduce pasta to Italy on a return voyage from China, as is commonly thought by pasta lovers. Montanari offers, in essence, a deconstruction of the meal, starting with the practice of drying and cooking pasta and moving on to the advent of macaroni and the addition of cheese. He also examines the evolution of cooking “al dente” (a departure from the two-hour boil noodles endured in medieval times); the shift from eating pasta with white cheese sauce to red sauce with tomato in the 17th century; and the emergence of the “Mediterranean diet,” which popularized the use of olive oil. While this scholarly treatise may be better suited for those with big appetites for knowledge, it’s full of delicious details. (Nov.)