A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
“People think that we Italians make a lot of fresh pasta, but that’s really not the case. We mainly eat the dry. My grandmother, I’m sure she made the fresh pasta. My grandparents grew up at the foot of the Alps in a very small village, and didn’t have access to a store where they could buy Barilla pasta. I always like Barilla. That’s the pasta I buy when I’m in Italy too.
“Growing up in Italy, I loved to spend time in the kitchen with my mother. Especially on Sunday, which was our only holiday. We used to make gnocchi many times. We would put big old potatoes—the starchy potatoes you need for gnocchi—in a pressure cooker for about 45 minutes. Then we would take the potatoes out, and I would have to peel them, and that was always excruciating because they were really hot. But you have to do this while they’re hot. You had all these rules you had to follow.
“And then my mother would rice them with a potato ricer. She would make the dough, and we would boil them and plate them and put some very fresh tomato sauce and lots of basil, nothing else, on top. And we would eat them. Right then.
“My husband is American from Ohio, as American as they come. Now he understands the difference, but at first he thought I was crazy when I said, ‘No, you can’t use this kind of sauce with this pasta.’ Now a dish he is crazy for is pasta with squid ink.
“Italian-American food—that’s a sore topic. I’m honest with you, right? I find the flavors are really not the same as in the Italian cuisine. It’s too garlicky to start with. A garlic press is something that doesn’t exist in Italy, because we use garlic to flavor stuff but not really as an ingredient.
“Italians, when they immigrated to the States, they were very poor. They had grown up with no meat, very poor dishes. And then as they grew richer, they tended to overpower their dishes with too much sauce or too much meat. They started putting a lot of stuff in the same meal, like spaghetti with meatballs. We don’t have that. We have spaghetti or meatballs.
“Making pasta in advance never works. It’s something foreigners tend to do. If you go to upscale restaurants and you have a bowl of pasta and you can put the dressing that you like, I always cringe. You have to cook the pasta right before it’s consumed. I have actually been to an Olive Garden. I wouldn’t call it representative of Italian cuisine. But for what it is, I don’t think it’s bad.
“If you went to Italy and ate a burger—you better not do that. You would probably think, ‘What the heck is this?’ It’s made with ground beef and Parmesan cheese and a lot of nutmeg, and maybe some bread soaked in milk. It’s a bit like a meatball, really, but shaped like a burger and panfried. My husband would frown. It’s a bit of a heresy for Americans.