Log Cabin Chronicles


Gimme pasta...
straight up


as a child, I knew that when spaghetti appeared on the supper table, we were going through a domestic financial crunch. It was not a food of choice, at least not for my father who was a card-carrying steak-and-potatoes kind of guy.

In our own house, when spaghetti hits the plate our kids assume that mom and dad didn't have time to make anything else. Pasta is healthy, homemade, fast food for most families today. Boil the water, open a jar of sauce and it's done. It's just about my favorite food.

There are, of course, gourmet cooks who will be aghast at such a casual approach to the starchy modern staple. They make their pasta fresh, cranking it out in those wringer-like machines, then chopping, dicing and sautéing expensive meats, plants and fungi to assemble a dish fit for the patron saint of spaghetti herself.

The true aficionado of pasta can tell dried noodles from fresh, semolina from flour-based, durum from soft wheat. They know that gnocchi are made with potatoes, that tortellini are supposed to look like the goddess Diana's navel, that tubular rigatoni soak up more sauce than any other shape. The aficionados can distinguish a fusilli from a rotini at 20 paces.

And as for sauces, a veritable map of Italy is right up there in their heads: di Napoli means plain tomato with basil; alla Bolognese says you can expect ground meat in the sauce, alla Siciliana will be spicy, probably with anchovies for flavor.

When the nouvelle cuisine types get hold of pasta they start turning out things like black cuttlefish-ink spaghettini topped with fresh pesto, white Italian truffles and goat cheese. And the "fusion" chefs go completely off the deep end - lemon grass, coconut milk and shaved venison jerky lasagna - that kind of thing.

I like just about anything people do to pasta. Some nights when I get home late from work, I sit down and eat plain leftover spaghetti from the fridge in all its cold, nude splendor. Does it for me.

Only once did I meet a plate of pasta I couldn't eat. At college, a fellow student served up spaghetti that had been boiled on a hot plate into bloated sliminess then liberally sprinkled with ketchup. Not exactly five-star fare. But it takes real effort to completely destroy pasta. Just once in 42 years' worth of dedicated spaghetti eating is a testament to the foodstuff's almost unbeatable appeal.

Which gets me to the subject of dining on spaghetti in the service of a good cause (beyond the obvious good cause of filling your body with high-energy, low-fat sustenance). The North Hatley Elementary School is holding a spaghetti supper, April 3 from five o'clock until seven at the school. Spaghetti, Caesar salad, garlic bread, dessert and coffee, just $6 for adults, $4 for children. A bargain! And all proceeds to support the Grade 5 and 6 class trip to Quebec City this spring.

And I promise, there won't be a sprig of lemon grass, a drop of coconut milk, or even a sliver of goat cheese anywhere near the kitchen - a celebration of pasta at its simple best.

Royal Orr, a radio broadcaster and freelance journalist living in Hatley, Quebec, likes his spaghetti straight up.

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Copyright © 1998 Royal Orr/Log Cabin Chronicles/5.98