Emblem of Italy abroad, it is a dish appreciated in all regions of our peninsula. From north to south it is present in its red robe ready to delight the palates. A classic of our tradition, they are spaghetti with tomato sauce. Easy to prepare at home to satisfy a large family. And again, to be enjoyed at midnight with friends. Or alone for a quick but complete meal. But what their story is? And how did they come to acquire such fame?
When and where
Elongated and thin round section spaghetti are produced with durum wheat flour. The first attestation of dried pasta is traced in the Sicily of the eleventh century. Certainly not already with the current name but as “vermicelli” for long formats and “maccaroni” for short pasta. But how were they consumed? Before becoming red, the ancestors of spaghetti were seasoned with simple products. Olive oil, cheese and pepper.
A plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce in the Neapolitan crib
It is instead at the end of the seventeenth century that it spreads the habit of tomato. Easy to understand as it is an American product. And the new continent was discovered only in 1492. There is an iconographic testimony supporting the appearance of spaghetti with tomato sauce. It could be found in the Royal Palace of Caserta. Here is an image depicting two peasants ready to enjoy an abundant red pasta dish. It seems that this dates back to the eighteenth century and that it is to be contextualized in a Neapolitan crib. So the spaghetti with tomatoes were already consumed in our southern Italy in past ages. However, we will have to wait until 1750 to see the first recipe published in which long pasta is paired with tomato.
Birth of a fork
So good to eat them with your hands. And yes, because until the nineteenth century spaghetti was consumed by the people without the use of cutlery. Thus different images portray humble people intent on refreshing themselves in the alleys. Yet the fork was already there. In fact it had existed for several centuries but the custom of not using it continued. On the one hand, therefore, a not very popular habit was preserved. On the other hand it must be said that the forks were not exactly like the current ones. They were in fact composed of only three very pointed prongs. A form that therefore made them impractical. But something changed one day and this thanks to the tastiness of the spaghetti.
In fact, pasta with tomato sauce attracted even the most refined palates. But how to think of eating them in official lunches without cutlery? Certainly a noble man could not have gotten his hands on spaghetti. Maybe he would have liked to do it but there was a label to respect! And so here Ferdinando di Borbone, in 1850, asked his court chamberlain to solve the problem. The solution was to introduce a fourth prong in the fork, making it easier to use. So it was that spaghetti with tomato sauce also spread to court banquets. The tables were colored with a dish that did not know social class. From the simplicity of its origin, and its first consumers, to the rich nobility. An Italy united by a popular dish.