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May 21, 2008

13 ways of looking at a plate of pasta

So far no shallow thoughts have appeared in my inbox, so I'm going to have to assume that Multimedia Editor and Resident Cheeseburger and Wings Expert John Lindner is still digesting his gas station food and sleeping in this morning. Not to despair. Voodoo Pork has been obsessing about pasta, and has decided to share his observations with us: ...


Pasta Obsessions

1) Ever see someone break spaghetti in half before boiling? Why? It makes it impossible to get a good twirl on.

2) People who order spaghetti or linguini and cut it up into tiny pieces. Grrrr....

3) Using a spoon to twirl long pasta. Lame. See #10.

4) People who grab some spaghetti onto their fork and then use their knife to wrap the rest around their fork to create an unholy mess.

5) Angel hair (capellini) - it rarely comes out right in restaurants. It should be served in small fresh portions not a big lump.

6) Some people call every type of pasta "macaroni." Is this a local thing? I know some people who grew up in Little Italy do that.

7) I met Italian-Americans in Chicago who call all sauces gravy. As in, "Do you want some gravy on your macaronl?"

8) Pizza Hut pasta delivered looks disgusting, like pasta dog food.

9) If you ever want to lose weight, eat whole wheat pasta. It's heavy and tastes like cardboard, so your portion size will drop dramatically.

10) Twirling pasta is easy if you use the right technique. Grab a small number of strands (3). Separate from the rest of the pack. Push against the side of the dish and twirl. Occasionally start over. If you do it right you will never get danglers more than the width of the fork.

11) Someone once told me that the proper way to eat spaghetti was to swallow it whole without chewing. Anybody?

12) Say when: Fresh grated cheese on everything Italian in Baltimore! Argggghhhh. Same for pepper. I would prefer that the chef make the dish, not me and the waitron. People act like it's some jackpot of excess that they won.

13) As a poor student, this was my most frequent pasta dish: generic mac n' cheese from a box, with water and olive oil instead of milk and butter and sometimes sliced hotdogs. And ketchup or hot sauce. I didn't want you to think I was a snob.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:41 AM | | Comments (27)


I met Italian-Americans in Chicago who call all sauces gravy.

It's not just a Chicago thing. I've heard the same thing from acquaintances in the Boston area.

As to (7), in The Godfather, Clemenza shows Michael how to make "gravy" in the scene when the Corleone family is in hiding during their war with the Tattaglia family, so the term is apparently used in the New York area as well.

As to (12), I happen to like freshly grated cheese and pepper applied at the last minute, at least at home. (If you add them earlier, the flavor gets washed out during the cooking.) In a restaurant, I'll defer to the kitchen's expertise, but, let's face it, tableside flavor additions sometimes are necessary. (It's certainly better than reflexively reaching for the salt when every dish come out of the kitchen.)

And, as for (13), I've been guilty of adding water and olive oil to boxed mac-n-cheese in the past (milk went bad too quickly, butter was pricy, and let's not talk about margarine).

The sauce/gravy conundrum revealed (sort of):

If red sauce in Italy is salsa, I wonder what Mexican salsa is called?

Re Voodoo Pork's pasta list:
1. Have seen it done. Don't do it myself. Perhaps they don't have a big enough pot?

3. When I was still somewhat wet behind the ears I was told that using a spoon was the 'correct' way to twirl pasta. Times change, taste changes, and etiquette ain't what it used to be.

4. Gack. 'Nuf said.

7. I've seen recipes for 'gravy' and there is a line (well, two kinds) of pasta sauce labelled "Philadelphia Tomato Gravy" or something like that.

9. Do I have to? My feeling about anything labelled as 'healthy,' 'lite,' 'low-fat,'or 'good for you' is that if it tasted as good as the real thing, people would buy it by choice.

10. See above. If I use a spoon I don't run the risk of scraping my fork against the porcelain and getting a sound like fingernails on a chaldboard.

11. Only if you are a sword swallower.

12. Agree with hmpstd. Usually the staff will ask, so you can say "no."

13. You can buy the orange cheese powder in bulk and save even more money.

9) If you ever want to lose weight, eat whole wheat pasta. It's heavy and tastes like cardboard, so your portion size will drop dramatically.

OK, here's where you all loose what little respect for my opinions in matters of taste that you might have had.

While I agree in general terms about whole wheat pasta, I do have a hang over pasta from my really, really, low carb time. It is Dreamfields pasta.

I love the stuff!

Ok, when I said hang over pasta, I meant that I still use it even though I've relaxed the low carb somewhat (ok, maybe a lot).

I didn't mean that I eat it as a hangover remedy.

Whole wheat pasta: This is something I tried not too long ago because it was on sale. I guess one could get used to it, but I wouldn't want to try.

Mac 'n' cheez: Also good with a little fried spam. At least that's what i recall from my student days. Also, such a dish makes sure you get all your salt for the week at once.

Hey Rosebud,
I'm with you on the Dreamfields pasta. Its good stuff.

And I've always cut my pasta up before eating it, much neater I suppose. Must have learned it from the parents.

On the Sopranos, they often used the term "gravy".

You can buy the orange cheese powder in bulk? Where? Oh sweet glowing food-like product. I'm pretty sure that the little woman would forbid its entry iinto the house.

I guess my pet peeve about cutting up spaghetti is why not just buy a pasta in a smaller size like bowties, macaroni, ziti, etc. I'm absolutely certain that these behaviors come from our parents. My theory would be that fifty years ago there was spaghetti and nohting else and most Americans didn't know how to eat it, so you chopped it up. Spaghetti-Os anyone?

Do a Googlesearch on 'cheese powder.' Many listings, as cheap as $5.19 per pound. Of course you can get higher quality for more $$$.

NO. CHEESE. POWDER. Stop giving him ideas.

Cheddar Cheese Powder
Ingredients: Cheddar Cheese, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Cottonseed & or Palm Oil, Non-Fat Milk, Food Starch Modified, Whey, Salt, Corn Syrup Solids, Silicon Dioxide.

Now go have a salad for lunch; that's your penance for flirting with cheese powder. Bad piglet!

I know I'm going to sound like a killjoy but Dreamfields' ingredients are a bit Frankensteiny, which I can live with, but one ingredient is unacceptable: sorbitol. Why put that in there? I wasn't sure why that disturbed me, so I looked it up and the medical side effects are scary. Don't continue reading if you really like it.

SIDE EFFECTS: Nausea, gas, diarrhea, stomach cramps or anal irritation may occur. If any of these effects persist or worsen, notify your doctor or pharmacist promptly. Tell your doctor immediately if any of these serious side effects occur: rectal bleeding, vomiting, weakness, dizziness, persistent urge to empty the bowel. Tell your doctor immediately if the following highly unlikely but very serious side effect occurs: black, tarry stools. An allergic reaction to this drug is unlikely, but seek immediate medical attention if it occurs. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include: rash, itching, swelling, dizziness, trouble breathing.

Needless to say it is not recommended for pregnant women. Yikes. Why do they ruin something that is supposed to improve your health and put something crazy like that in it?

I think I'll stick with smaller portions of pasta or tough it out with totally natural whole wheat pasta.

1. Did this when I had little kids.

2. I had a husband of German extraction. This was how he ate spaghetti. I chose not to look.

3. Growing up in an Italian neighborhood in NJ, all of the grandparents taught kids to twirl this way. We were English, so we went along with those who would know.

7. The above-mentioned Italians of my youth called tomato sauce "red gravy". Upon reflection, this may have been a translation issue, but I still use the term sometimes, especially if I'm dealing with a pretentious sort.

11. Why would anyone ingest food without chewing? Isn't the Gulp Method reserved for liver?

12. People expect to be offered grated cheese, so some restaurants make the offer. Free Will - it's why we sin.

13. I think these days they're eating those gawdawful Ramen noodles.

Ramen noodles. I probably ate a dump truck's worth of them in college and grad school. I dread to think how much trans fats from the noodles and MSG from the powder I consumed. I used to eat them raw like very crunchy snacks. Really.

Once, thinking I'd save money over the blue box, I bought a canister of the Kraft orange cheese powder. Even the dog wouldn't touch the stuff. (Maybe the powder gets added flavor from the foil pouch in which it's packed inside the blue box?) These days, I stick to good old Parmigiano-Reggiano and my trusty Microplane grater, which makes a little P-R go a long way -- and I've got the scraped knuckles to prove it.

Ramen noodles can be made edible by the addition of Sriracha sauce (hope I spelled that right).

Terrier Mom,
Sorbitol lurks in lots of things, so be careful. Like sugar-free gum for instance.


Guilty of spoon twirling, Mr. Pork! I guess I was brought up wrong! LOL

It tickles me how us Americans have turned a little pasta and red sauce into an entree staple. I wonder if there are families in Europe feasting on what we consider traditionally American side items...

Anything can be made edible by the addition of Sriracha sauce! When I travel I always carry a few of the tiny Tabasco bottles to save me from bland food.

6) Some people call every type of pasta "macaroni." Is this a local thing? I know some people who grew up in Little Italy do that.

I have heard people refer generically to any sort of tube pasta as "macaroni" and strands as "noodles."

As far as gravy goes, generally speaking, that would connote something made from meat juices or simmering with meat or bones, whereas sauce is sans the meat products. What most people buy in a jar is probably sauce. But what self-respecting grandma (of any ethnicity) would serve something out of a jar?

# 11-This is how you choke. My sister used to do this when she was younger and choked so many times that my italian granny refused to make long pasta ever again.

Look at the big brain on Liz. How many people got the literary reference in the post title? Ten clever points for referencing Pretzel City's greatest poet. I have a special connection to him.

voodoopork, I still eat ramen raw. I cook them, too, depending on what I'm feeling like. They get butter and sometimes rooster (sriracha) sauce.

Ramen isn't is its own, special food group.

#12-Restaurants with supposed chefs that can't cook it properly.
#13-Restaurants that use boxed pasta and bottled sauce and charge you as if it was appropriately made in house (Sabatinos, I'm talking to you!)
#14-The absence of home made pasta at many locations

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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