When I read this New York Times article that appeared on the front page of the paper right around Columbus Day, 2009, about the newly released English translation of Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, I was totally charmed by the woman, a 70-something historian from Bologna.
“I think of her as a kind of Julia Child,” Mona Talbott, the executive chef at the American Academy in Rome, told the Times, “Julia Child demystified French food. Oretta demystifies pasta.”
Oretta traveled Italy for four years to research her book, a version of which was originally published in Italian in 2004. The book covers centuries of Italian pasta-making, from, according to the Times article, “abbotta pezziende, a short pasta that means ‘feed the beggar’ in Abruzzo dialect, to the zumari of Puglia, a long Italian pasta traditionally added to vegetable soups. In between there are the corzetti of Liguria and Piedmont, the little stamped-out coins; pi fasacc of Lombardy, which look like little babies in a papoose; avemarie, which cook for as long as it takes to say a Hail Mary; and several dozen variations on macaroni and ravioli.”
Do you think, like so many people, that Marco Polo brought dried pasta from China in the 13th century? Think again. Oretta asserts that dried pasta made from durum was found in Italy as far back as 800 A.D. and was spread by the Muslims conquerors of Sicily.
One of my favorite details from the article, and there many, is that Oretta’s first stop on her research travels was often the local parish, to mine the community for pasta lore. Here’s a recipe that ran with the article, for Strozzapreti With Roasted Tomatoes; strozzapreti is one of Oretta’s favorite shapes. For a slide show of some of her other favorites, click HERE. Oh, and strozzapreti is Italian for, don’t choke on this, “priest choker.”
Yours in celebrating Italy,