By the time our son had reached four years of age, he had developed a strong, nay hidebound, preference for minimalist pasta, bereft of even the faintest hint of tomato sauce, and one that he presumed to call “white pasta”. When we happened to be at a restaurant in Spoleto, Umbria, one day, and in full respect of his narrow menu range, I remember orderìng for him: “My son will have pasta with butter and parmesan, please”. This translates into Italian as “pasta burro e parmigiano” and it is THE most common, default, “hurry-up” pasta recipe to resort to in cases of emergency or straitened time frames. Easily a favourite with I don’t know how many people, it’s not the sort of pasta one would order at a restaurant however — why bother eating out?
This said, its ingredients have much in common with the artful invention of the “Fettuccine Alfredo”, a pasta recipe that is famous in the US but unheard of in Rome (or Italy for that matter) except for at the Alfredo establishments (there are two restaurants who lay claim to having invented the recipe : http://www.alfredoallascrofa.com/en/ and http://www.alfredo-roma.it/).
The ingredients are only three: dry pasta, butter and parmesan. You really can’t go wrong with this recipe … you boil the pasta and drain it, add as much butter as you presume necessary, and then freshly grated parmesan. There is a variation that prefers olive oil to butter and is aptly if unsurprisingly called “pasta olio e parmigiano”.
But back to Spoleto and the restaurant we were in. The waiter responded to my order with a remarkable, “Oh, vuol dire Pasta all’inglese?” … which translates as “Oh, do you mean Pasta English style?”. To which my retort must have gone something like …”I don’t care much about style, as long as it is made up of butter and parmesan.”
“E allora” answered the waiter, looking at me as though having to deal with a wayward stubborn child, “it’s pasta all’inglese, then, that’s what I said wasn’t it?”.
Goodness knows why this pasta should be associated with anything English. It is not inconceivable that it might have all started out with a poorly English customer, eager to eat something “light” that would remind him of home but in keeping with his consumptive frame. And what can be more “home” than butter for an Englishman? Or maybe it had something to do with an English Nanny, the kind who were afraid of nasty “foreign” food. The reader may not realise that there is a widespread tendency in Italy to serve “white” food (“in bianco”) when one is ailing. This is an heirloom piece of advice brought to us by the Scuola Medica Salernitana, the first medical school in Europe for those who might be interested in knowing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schola_Medica_Salernitana). It was they who approvingly advised the eating of plain rice (“riso in bianco”) as a treatment for many a malady.
So there you go, a double whammy. Not only is this pasta easy to prepare and delicious, it is also very good for you!
I was preparing lunch for three people. Thus, 3 nobs of butter in the pan. Add three tablespoons of greshly grated parmesan to the butter in the pan. Put the pasta to boil …. And then, when the pasta is almost ready to be drained, take 1 ladleful of the cooking water and add it to the pan. Start stirring. The heat of the cooking water will dissolve the butter and create a creamy sauce. Stir until the butter has completed melted. Now add the drained spaghetti.
Toss the pasta, mix, combine etc … until it’s all nicely coated. Add more parmesan to the spaghetti once they’re on the plate. It’s a good idea, also, to heat the plates before you serve the pasta. This never happens in my family, I hasten to add, because we’re always in a hurry and too famished to bother. Someone in the family decided to add a dribble of balsamic vinegar. Ooooo innovation! And jolly good it tasted too. Even so, all I like to add to my pasta burro e parmigiano is a twist of white pepper.