The taste of the sea

South of Italy, August. It is 23:30, the temperature isn’t even considering to drop, it is too hot to go to sleep.

You live in a small city, and your friends live 5 minutes away from you.

You have two options:

  1. Stick your head in the fridge, hoping to fall asleep while enjoying the fake breeze;
  2. Call your friends over for a spaghettata di mezzanotte, something between ritual and tradition, probably the most important meal of the day*

*=The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of The Parmigiana Whisperer only and her greedy personality.

Spaghettata di mezzanotte literally translates as “midnight spaghetti”: it is an impromptu meal, made with the simplest ingredients -like spaghetti, olive oil, garlic and chilli (known as pasta aglio e olio – which means pasta garlic and oil, for some reasons chilli is not mentioned in the name of the dish). Usually, friends have a spaghettata after spending the evening together, or to have an excuse to meet up to eat something quick and informal.

Pasta aglio e olio was originally created in the South of Italy, most likely in Naples, where a dish called vermicelli alla borbonica listed ingredients similar to our modern pasta aglio e olio, but used vermicelli in place of spaghetti, and the dish was topped with fresh parsley leaves.

Vermicelli alla borbonica were not only the precursor of our modern protagonist of a spaghettata, they are also the reason why forks have four teeth.

It is 1770, we are in Naples, at the court of King Ferdinando di Borbone. Spaghetti and vermicelli are a popular dish, but eating them is quite a complicated process. The chamberlain Gennaro Spadaccini realised that the issue might be related to the forks used with the pasta, that at that time only had three teeth. He invented a new type of fork, with four teeth, in order to make it easier to eat spaghetti – and the idea was so clever that we are still using this type of fork!

Another dish that might be the precursor of spaghetti aglio e olio is spaghetti alle vongole fujute, which translates as “spaghetti with escaped clams”. In the past, only rich people could afford meat and fish, while the rest of the population had to rely on what the environment could offer. Olive oil, cherry tomatoes, garlic and chilli were greatly available in the South of Italy, so these ingredients, along with some pasta, were sufficient to make a decent meal. However, adding some fish to this preparation would be just perfection, if only people could afford it. To add some taste of the sea, they came up with the clever idea of adding some pebbles, collected at seashore, to this dish made of spaghetti, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and chilli.

Today obviously pebbles are not used anymore, but there are still some variations of spaghetti aglio e olio with the addition of some extra ingredients to remember the precursors of this dish: cherry tomatoes, anchovies, or my favourite version with toasted breadcrumbs.


46 thoughts on “The taste of the sea

    1. Love this! I am in love with Italy, having spent a tiny amount of time there during a 5-week whirlwind trip in July 2019. I love anything to do with Italy, the culture, the food, the scenery ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I always learn something from your posts, and this is a really interesting one! I must say, I’ve have never heard of the seashore pebbles! Simple pasta dishes are so satisfying, I know my grandkids love a lunch of spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, and Parm or breadcrumbs. So comforting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an entertaining and informative story, especially the part about Gennaro Spadaccini and his new fork! In a strange way it reminded me of the old tale about strozzapreti, something I’m sure you’re familiar with. Whenever I have left-over spaghetti (which is rare!), one of the ways I like to prepare it is to sauté some garlic and oil in a cast iron pan then add the spaghetti. Sometimes I toss it around in the pan; other times I let it get crispy and set together like a frittata. Either way is so yummy … and quick! You’re a very good writer and, no doubt, an excellent cook. I always look forward to your posts. Buon appetito! 🍝 🥖 🍷

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The breadcrumbs is my favourite. I even used it in my novel. I love this dish. My mother would cook it when we were short on money. She would grate the bread herself (also home made). Some things about being Italian make the heart sing.

    Liked by 1 person

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