Spaghetti al Pomodoro s the recipe that you can always find everywhere – at the best restaurants and in every single household - across Italy(Shutterstock)
Spaghetti al Pomodoro s the recipe that you can always find everywhere – at the best restaurants and in every single household - across Italy(Shutterstock)

Spaghetti al Pomodoro, anyone?

What can be better than celebrating the World Week of Italian Cuisine in Indian than a a cook-off?
By Karishma Kuenzang | Hindustan Times
PUBLISHED ON DEC 06, 2020 07:15 AM IST

Stuck at home and craving authentic Italian cuisine? As a way out of this pickle, a select few Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata residents were sent a DIY home-cooking kit by the Italian Embassy for a cooking challenge.

As part of the fifth edition of the World Week of Italian Cuisine in India, this edition celebrated the rise of home-cooking during lockdown by asking contestants to make the Italian dish found in every home – the Spaghetti al Pomodoro.

The backstory

According to chef Riccardo Fanucci. of Gambero Rosso in Rome, despite the great differences in gastronomic traditions travelling through Italian regions, spaghetti with tomato sauce or spaghetti pomodoro is probably the recipe that you can always find everywhere – at the best restaurants and in every single household.

“The spaghetti with tomato sauce represents a symbol of union and brotherhood between all Italian regions. Italy was the first European country, after Spain, to know the tomato in the first years of 1500 AD, thanks to the close relationships existing between the Bourbons and the reigning families of the time and the Spanish domains on Italian territory. The climate of our country is particularly favourable to the cultivation of tomatoes,” chef Riccardo says. But that doesn’t mean that tomato is present in 90 per cent of Italian recipes. “That’s a myth because there are hundreds of recipes that don’t use tomatoes,” he adds.

H.E. Vincenzo De Luca, Ambassador of Italy in India was one of the judges of the competition
H.E. Vincenzo De Luca, Ambassador of Italy in India was one of the judges of the competition

The primary factor in any Italian dish is the ingredients. But it’s difficult to find raw ingredients from Italy, which results in fusion versions. “But sometimes it’s sad to see the original name of ancient recipes handed down for centuries, sometimes transformed into grotesque reproductions. It’s also true that it’s never wrong to satisfy the needs of customers, changing the recipes in accordance with the expectations of taste in a foreign country. The most important thing is to call things by their right name,” chef Riccardo adds. Just remember to use good wine and extra virgin olive oil.

This is something that cook-off winner Karan Tripathi, who has started cooking more during the lockdown and has now learnt familial recipes, also noticed.

Since it’s such a simple sauce prepared with only a handful of ingredients, the tiniest of error, could make all the difference. Being careful was key. “While I have prepared arrabbiata sauce a number of times, pomodoro never got the chance to be showcased. I would always discard the basil stems and only use the leaves, but the chef’s recipe suggested I cook basil stems along with garlic on low heat to maximise the flavour. I was afraid of overcooking and browning the basil stems, giving an undesirable burnt flavour to the sauce. Also, if the pasta is on high heat while adding the Parmesan cheese, the cheese will overcook and take on a gritty texture. Too much Parmesan will overpower the delicate basil flavour,” he describes.

Moment of truth

As a result, the pasta was light on the palate, allowing room for all the ingredients to shine, unlike the desi counterparts where the garlic, dried oregano, and chili flakes are overdone.

The cook-off winner Karan Tripathi learnt not to discard the basil stems but cook it along with garlic on low heat to maximise the flavour
The cook-off winner Karan Tripathi learnt not to discard the basil stems but cook it along with garlic on low heat to maximise the flavour

“Making pasta from scratch and not overcooking risotto, is still a pet peeve,” says the winner of a free enogastronomic trip to Italy.

The dish also busts two common myths about Italian cuisine, says chef Riccardo: The first, spaghetti is served with meatballs. “You’ll hardly ever find it in a restaurant in Italy. This is a recipe that belongs to the tradition of home-cooking - a recipe that could be found at a grandmother’s house in the 1940s on the table of Italian immigrants in America,” he says.

Secondly, there is no pasta with chicken or ketchup. It only comes together inside a sandwich! He adds. “It was nice to see how even in India the tomato spaghetti managed to bring the warmth of Italy to your homes. The recipe I chose was the one that most faithfully reflects the real Italian atmosphere that a plate of spaghetti with tomato on a table can create - it’s just waiting to be eaten!”

The participants had to send in three separate videos – an introduction, the cooking process and prep, the table setting and tasting. Then, five shortlisted participants had a cook-off, judged by Alex De Masi , first counsellor, and Isabella Periotto, first secretary, and chef Riccardo Fanucci of Gambero Rosso joining in from Rome.

“For both Italy and India, food traditions are crucial and a common factor that binds us. Home-cooking plays a central role in households of both countries and so, we wanted to dedicate this World Week of Italian Cuisine to it, especially since people are opting for it in the lockdown,” says H.E. Vincenzo De Luca, Ambassador of Italy in India.

Follow @Kkuenzang on Instagram and Twitter

From HT Brunch, December 6, 2020

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