Saturday, May 1, 2010

Don't be a Fazool, Pasta is cool!

Hey, I'm not cursing, by "fazool" I mean "bean" as in pasta-and-beans (pasta fazool). If you are of Italian decent, you are already thinking "This guy can't spell! It's pasta fagioli." Rest assured, dear reader, that I understand this, but I choose to spell it my way for four good reasons:
1. I am forcing the pronunciation (fagioli can be pronounced fah-joe-lee or fe-sho-le)
2. It starts with F and ends in ool and is much nicer than calling someone a fool.
3. "fazool" rhymes with a really nasty Italian curse word and it is really fun to say "ah fazool!" or "pasta fazool!" when cursing is inappropriate (and cursing is nearly always inappropriate).
4. I am trying to remain accessible to my non-Italian readers.

Speaking of non-Italian readers, I wish I had a real good word for non-Italians, the equivalent of "Gentile" to a Jew, and something far less weighted than "infidel"! I submit "Nuntalio" for your consideration, an anglicized contraction of non Italiano. I mean no offense by this term, Having been raised entirely outside of Italy and mostly outside of urban Italian neighborhoods I myself lead a largely "nuntalio" lifestyle.

But I digress, the topic is all things pasta, and I suppose that the best place to start is with the word itself. In American English pasta has come to mean Italian spaghetti and macaroni and the like. This is not exactly so in Italy, and I'll tell you how I discovered this. My Father's maternal grandfather was a pastry chef. When he came to America he worked for the the famous Ferrara Bakery in New York's Little Italy. My cousin Grace inherited his notebook of recipes, and let me scan them. The notebook is beginning to decay, and the beautiful Italian script is fading, so I am pleased to have been able to preserve them, but they are entirely in Italian, and they are very hard to read, and many of them use the term pasta in them.

Why would anyone use noodles in a pastry? Unless they were making a decidedly "nuntalio" desert like Kugel (Noodle Pudding). That's when I discovered that in Italy Pasta means paste, and includes all things paste like, including dough. Stuff made from dough like pastries are often called pasta, and what I described above as the American English definition of Pasta is made from dough, so it too is called pasta, but it is only a subset of Italian pasta, for instance pasta di pomodoro means tomato paste, and pasta di mandorle (another item from my great granfather's hand-written recipes) means almond paste. Still, it is noteworthy that it is so very common to call spaghettis and macaronis "pasta" in Italy, that tomato paste is shortened to "di pomodoro" to be less confusing, and that anti-pasta means the serving before the spaghetti or macaroni dish (literally before-pasta) so for our purposes we can use pasta as we always have, but while we are playing with words, other Italian words related to pasta include pasticca (pill), pasticcio (a pie, pastry, patty, or jam - and similarly to being in a jam: a sticky situation, a mess), and pastiche (musical, theatrical or artistic composition that has been pasted together from stylistically, nationalistically, linguistically, or otherwise disparate sources). Pastiche is a perfect cognate, by the way, meaning the very same in English. The only other English words related to pasta that I will mention in this entry are pastry and pasty (as in a dumpling, not the burlesque - for lack of a better term - costume) and patty in that they are linguistically related to paste, and are made of dough (though a patty may be so named for the action of patting used to create it).

I wish that I was made of dough, as in a slang for money, but I can find no reference for "pasta" being used as a slang for money in Italian. "Scarol" is about all I can think of as an Italian slang for money - it translates literally as escarole the leafy green vegatable in Italian wedding soup, served with the pasta Orzo and little chicken and beef meatballs (presumably at weddings to bring the couple money because of the "scarole" in it - I wonder if the orzo is behind where throwing rice came from?)

Now back to pasta itself, there are literally hundreds of kinds of pasta: long thin rods like spaghetti, vermicelli, and Capellini (angel hair); tubes, like macaroni, zitti, penne; ribbed-tubes like penne-rigatta, and riggatoni, shapes like shells(conchiglie and the smaller conchigliette ) ears(Orecchiette) bow-ties (fiochetti and farfalle - farfalle actually translates to butterfly) stuffed pastas (raviolli and tortalini - tortalini translates as little torte - i.e. pie) cork screw shapes (fusilli and fusilli Corti); and flattened rods and straight thin ribbons (fettucinni and linguinni) . Pasta runs the gamut from tiny pasta like Acini di peppe (literally: pepper seed, a small noodle for soups)to sheets of lasagna, and big canoloni or manicotti tubes (I say yuck to the tubes, these are best prepared as crepes).

So one thing I remember about pasta, is that growing up, my dad would sometimes tell my mom to pick up "number tens", I guess this is because she couldn't remember Vermicelli. Ronzoni brand pasta at least, had numbers on the boxes, at least of the long thin rod type pasta, and the higher the number, the thicker the pasta - at least that is how I remember it, alas the numbers are gone, perhaps I will post a chart with the actual gauge of the spaghetti-type pasta (what I've been calling the long thin rod type pasta).

So anyway, as a general rule of thumb: thick pasta - thick meaty sauce, thin pasta -thinner, lighter sauces, thin, flat pasta - creamy or oily sauces. tiny pastas - soups, ribbed pastas- heavy cheeses, twisty pastas and penne, chunky vegetables or meats in thinner sauces. As for cooking pasta... big rolling pot of water with a couple of dashes of salt, throw the pasta while the pot is boiling, and cook it until it is tender, but firm - and if you test it by throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks, well, that's Italian.


  1. pasta salad to an event, make appropriate provisions to keep the salad cool. Specially designed bowls are available that contain a freezable fluid in their shell that will keep food safe. Or simply keep the salad refrigerated until mealtime and immediately after eating refrigerate leftovers, if there are any.

  2. In the film "Donnie Brasco," the Pacino character uses fazool as meaning money. Is this common slang?