I don’t know if anyone has done any serious research into the dilation of time experienced while waiting for pasta to boil; I find it likely that no-one ever will. Whether there is something in the quality of 00 flour which, on contact with briskly boiling water, causes an effect not unlike that of certain hallucinogenic drugs whereby the nine minutes it takes for dried fusilli to cook seems to take twice or three times that long or whether, as seems more likely, I am naturally impatient and become more so when hungry, will probably never be known. In any case, I often think that the vast majority of dressings for pasta were devised simply to give you something to do while you wait for the main event, which is after all better off adorned as little as possible. The best sauces, to my mind, are the ones whose main liquid component is the pasta cooking water, seasoned with pecorino and pepper, or garlic and chilli, or brought together by a friendly egg. There is something beautiful in just the words ‘buttered noodles’, let alone their shining yellow glory, and it is a shame you have to mess around making a coq au vin or a stroganoff if you want to eat them in a socially acceptable fashion. (As a side note, while I find the habit that self-appointed intellectuals have of disparaging the American dialect of English tedious in the extreme, the use of ‘noodles’ to mean any shape of pasta always throws me. The word so clearly and naturally means wiggly lengths.) Although many-ingrediented and long-cooked ragus of course have their place the best ones are those braised down into a homogenous mass to become a seasoning for the pasta and its thickening water – the confusingly named Neapolitan dish Ragu Genovese, a sticky mush of aubergine, or a proper spag bol – and they do, having been made preferably a day in advance, leave you with the problem we began with, leaving you nothing to do while your cavatelli cooks except sink a glass of something fizzy, chat to your guests, or articulate a theory of pasta.
1 thought on “towards a theory of pasta”
It’s existential. If shape of pasta (cavatelli) dictates cooking-time, dictates level of impatience, dictates hunger, dictates need for glass of fizz, dictates attitude to companions at table, form has already triumphed over function. And now I’m off to count angels on the head of a pin.