Archive | spaghetti RSS feed for this section

Thoroughly modern macaroni

6 Oct

Just when you think you know how 19th Century Australians cooked their pasta, along comes a recipe that changes everything.

Before we go on, however, you have to know there was no such thing as pasta in the 1800s – it was called macaroni. And it was most commonly cooked in a sweet pudding , much like a rice pudding, in a bake of some sort, like macaroni cheese, or as an accompaniment or garnish to different meats  (ox tongue garnished with macaroni anyone?).

There were, of course, exceptions, mostly revolting-sounding ones which involved brown gravy and batter, but none are as exceptional and out of place as the recipe below:

Maccaroni Dressed with Oil.

Take two cloves of garlic, slice them very finely crosswise, and set them to boil in a gill of fine olive oil, adding during the process two or three anchovies, well washed and boned, and cut in small pieces, and a dozen or more olives, cut in two and stoned.  When the slices of garlic assume a golden color, pour the whole over 1/2lb of boiled string maccaroni (Vermicelli or Spaghetti) well drained; mix well, and serve.

It comes from Australian Town and Country Journal in 1890 and, culinarily for its time, it’s a freak.

Not only does it contain garlic and olive oil – both at least a good seventy years away from real acceptance in the mainstream Australian pantry; it doesn’t contain any kind of protein – unless you count anchovies – which I don’t;  and it mentions spaghetti – which, while not unheard of in this period, is rare. The recipe is not prefaced with it being Italian, or foreign or unusual in anyway. It’s just a normal recipe for normal housewives, unlike any others before it, and a good way ahead of any others that follow it.

Unfortunately, there’s no author given for the recipe and that is a real shame, because they should be congratulated for their foresight…  of course, this could mean the recipe was plagiarised, in which case I take the congratulations back…

Bibliography

“Maccaroni Dressed with Oil,” Australian Town and Country Journal,  26 April 1890, 34.

Advertisements

A recipe for ravioli…

26 Sep

For kicks these days, I spend a lot of time looking for Italian recipes in Australian cookbooks. The one below comes from the 1961 edition of the P.W.M.U. Cookery Book. It left me asking one question. Read it, and see if you can figure out what that question was:

Ravioli

1lb. rissole steak, 1 cup diced celery, 1 chopped onion, 1 dessertspoon curry powder.

Heat a dessertspoon of oil and fry onion. Add curry powder, salt and pepper. Add steak and brown a little. Add 8 oz. tin tomato soup, celery and flavourings. Cook 1 cup spaghetti and add. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

The question, dear readers, is why? Why on earth is this recipe titled ‘Ravioli’? If ravioli, in its broadest definition, can be described as a stuffed pasta, this recipe is just, well, stuffed…

Bibliography

  • Jenkins, Gwen, Hanna, Betty, McMillan, Muriel and Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Victoria P.W.M.U. cookery book (Rev., enl., redesigned and completely reset ed). Melbourne: Cheshire, 1961.

Spaghetti sandwiches

7 Jul
Spaghetti sandwich illustration

Spag sanga anyone? Lorraine Hannay's illustration of a spaghetti sandwich in Richard Beckett's Convicted Tastes.

I have a confession to make. I have never eaten a spaghetti sandwich. A tangle of tomato-tinged, soggy and sweet can-confined spaghetti has not ever presented itself to me as a viable sandwich filling. The concept is utterly foreign, which isn’t surprising given I grew up in a household where  a can of spaghetti was like bacon to a Jewish Rabbi – not only a banned substance, but one thought of with a fair amount of  disgust.

Not so for my eighth generation Australian husband who recalls with delight chomping down on buttered white bread crammed with slimy spaghetti.

He wasn’t the only one. Richard Beckett recalls that spaghetti sandwiches were once very much a part of the culinary landscape:

Its construction was quite basic – a spoonful of tinned spaghetti between two pieces of buttered bread. Along with baked beans, it was always an integral part of a plate of mixed sandwiches at city tearooms – now vanished – run by large department stores on their top storeys.

When exactly the spaghetti sandwich made its debut is hard to know. What we do know is that to make this historic sandwich you need a can of spaghetti, and that process was kicked off in the late 19th Century by the Franco-American company in the US.  By the 1920s it was joined by versions from Heinz and Campbells, amongst others.

Heinz, which didn’t start local production till 1934, claims that US miners introduced their canned products to Australia during the gold rush, along with their shovels and picks and dreams of striking it rich too, no doubt.

However, by 1917, you didn’t need to know an American miner to get your hands on a can of spaghetti – you would’ve found it along with other imported products like baked beans, cream of tomato soup and “many other desirable lines of distinctive quality” at HG Wilson and Co, “The Family Grocer” on Swanston Street in Melbourne, just opposite St Paul’s Cathedral.

By 1924, the spaghetti sandwich must’ve been sufficiently established as a culinary entity as to allow the Geisha Café in Townsville to advertise it as “very, very nice”.  It might sound like they employed Borat to do their copywriting, but the Geisha was keen on selling its special  spaghetti sandwich with its “special coffee”, as, well, a “special”:

Spaghetti sandwich ad 1917

"You could ask for nothing more delightful" than a spaghetti sandwich, according to Cafe Geisha's ad in The Townsville Daily Bulletin,10 September 1924.

In 1935, the Barrier Miner of Broken Hill published Miss Marojorie Mann’s recipe for Hot Savory Spaghetti Sandwiches. It was sent in as an entry for an “Afternoon Tea Delicacies” competition. It didn’t win:

Hot Savory Spaghetti Sandwiches

Slices of crisp toast, well buttered, some thin slices of ham, sliced tomato, grated cheese (if desired), 1 tin spaghetti, parsley

Reheat the spaghetti thoroughly. Heat the ham in a little milk – either in the oven or over the fire. Place a thick layer of spaghetti on a piece of toast. Cover with another slice on this. Place heated ham and sliced tomato and cover with another slice of buttered- toast. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and sprinkle thickly with grated cheese. Serve very  hot.

Which begs the question, am I game enough to try this so-called “delicacy”? I think it’s time to confront my fears about this most foreign of foods,  and while I’ve barely recovered from my last spaghetti-led carb overload, I think, as they once said about Whitlam, it’s time…

Bibliography

  • Beckett, Richard, Convicted Tastes: food in Australia. Sydney : George Allen & Unwin, 1984, 204
  • Levenstein, Harvey. “The American response to Italian food, 1880 – 1930” in Food in the USA, ed: Counihan, Carole, M, Routledge, 2002, New York, 78.
  • “Groceries.” The Argus, 23 May 1917, 12.
  • “Spaghetti Sandwiches are Very, Very Nice.” Townsville Daily Bulletin, 10 September 1924, 3.
  • “Afternoon Tea Delicacies.” Barrier Miner, 14 September 1935, 4 

Retro recipe: Spaghetti patties, 19 August, 1933

15 Feb

Today we go back, way back, to 1933, to sample a prize-winning recipe that its author, Mrs Reichenbach of Quirindi, NSW says is “most suitable to serve at a bridge party or as a dinner savory.”

I have my doubts.

However, in the spirit of culinary adventure, I decide to give the intriguingly named Spaghetti patties a try…

Into a saucepan of boiling salted water throw a handful of spaghetti. Boil until very tender, strain, add a lump of butter, pepper, salt, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and 2 tablespoonful grated cheese.

My first issue is with the “boil until very tender”. I boiled the Barilla Spaghettoni number 7 for at least 20 minutes. I felt so wrong doing it and they’re still not that soft. I’m tipping the spaghetti in 1933 was not made with durum wheat so would’ve been much softer than this. Ugh. Soft pasta reminds me of men with weak handshakes – all limp and insipid.

saucepan with boiling water

Al dente? Not this pasta.

Next, trouble with “a lump of butter”. How much is a lump? Is it like a lump of sugar? That seems a reasonable deduction to me, so in it goes:

Lump of butter

Is that the size of a "lump"?

And now for the greatest crime against my race ever. Tomato sauce mixed into pasta. My parents always told me this is how Australians ate spaghetti, and I didn’t really believe them. Until now.

I feel sick shaking the dead horse into the pasta and, as I stir it through, I imagine my nonna, who lives in Melbourne, watching over me. She is crying. And saying the rosary. And asking God if it was a mistake to bring her family to the new country, if this is what it meant for her blood-line. Sorry, nonna…

tomato sauce

Forgive me family.

After the deed is done, it occurs to me that perhaps Mrs Reichenbach didn’t mean commercially-prepared tomato sauce. Did they even have that in 1933? I must find out. Alas, for the soggy little strings of spaghetti drowning in a red sea, it is too late.

Update:  Michael Symons in One Continuous Picnic: A History of Eating in Australia, says tomato sauce was being bottled at least by 1868. So it’s possible I did use the sauce Mrs R intended. 

Pasta sauce

Just wrong.

My filling is done.

Now it’s time for the pasty:

Sift two cups flour, pinch of salt, pinch of cayenne. Rub evenly into this 1 cup butter or clarified dripping, two tablespoonsful grated cheese, and mix into a firm dough with a beaten egg and a little lemon juice.

Not surprisingly I go with the butter. I don’t happen to have any clarified dripping on hand. Does anyone?

Dough

Sweet sweet butter...

Roll out thinly, cut and line patty tins with paste. Bake until golden in medium hot oven.

This goes reasonably well, even though the amount of butter makes my arteries harden at the thought of actually eating it. Actually eating it. I wonder if this is necessary.

pastry cups

Such little cups, so many carbs.

Turn out and fill with spaghetti mixture. Serve hot.

I try to delicately twirl the pasta into the cups. I try to channel Donna Hay. She would know how to make these little bastards look good.

pasta cups

I bet Donna could make these look nice...

A little chopped parsley sprinkled on top is a pretty decoration.

If you say so Mrs Reichenbach. Now they’re ready for their close up.

close up spag patties

Ready to be eaten.

And for a tasting. I take a bite. I can taste butter and tomato sauce. The spaghetti is mushy and the pastry case is crumbly. It’s bland, dry and crying out for some proper sauce. Or some vegetables. Or more cheese. Or something else. Anything else really.

Did Mrs Reichenbach really serve these up at Bridge parties? And did she really win a prize? I don’t know about the former, but the answer to the latter is yes, she did. The Australian Women’s Weekly gave Mrs R a consolation prize and said this little carb-on-carb delight “was simple to make and will be appreciated by housewives.”

Ahh, that’s the problem then, I’m not a housewife!

pasta box

In the archive, where they belong.

Another Orange Contest with £5 Prize. The Australian Women’s Weekly (1932-1982), Saturday 19 August 1933, page 35.

Pasta al dente

10 Feb
pasta

Pasta as we know it... but not in the 15th century.

“Tania, this pasta… it’s not good!”

My father gently picked up a strand of the spaghetti I had cooked him and dangled it in the air over his plate.  It quickly joined its tomato sauce-covered cousins below.  

“See? Too soft. Too soft is not good. It is like the spaghetti in the can like the Australiani eat. We are Italians. We eat our spaghetti a little bit hard in the middle. We have always eaten it that way and we always will. Understand?”

“Si, yes, ok, I understand. Sorry dad.”

I was only eight-years-old and the lesson about al dente pasta was to stick in my mind like dough to unfloured hands. Still, I wish I’d known then what I know now. Then I could’ve replied to my father’s lecture with:

“Actually no dad, you’re wrong. Italians, or at least the people who lived in the country that was to become Italy, haven’t always eaten their pasta al dente. In fact, in the 15th century they ate it so overcooked it was like porridge. So when you say we have always eaten it that way, well, you’re just wrong, wrong, wrong.”

I would’ve delivered this in the “tone” my parents were always warning me about.  It might’ve earnt me a slap and perhaps I would’ve deserved it, but slap or no slap, it doesn’t change the truth.

John Dickie, in Delizia! The Epic History of Italians and their Food, draws our attention to a few pasta recipes written by the eminent Maestro Martino de Rossi, sometimes called Martino di Milano and other times Martino di Como.  We will call him Marty for short. Marty was a chef and the author of The Art of Cooking in around 1465 – a book generally considered important in the development of Italian gastronomy.

What’s clear from this book is that Marty and his contemporaries liked their pasta soft, super soft in fact. The recommended cooking time for vermicelli is an hour and for macaroni two hours. Dickie points out that even if you take into consideration that Marty’s dough contained egg white and probably needed a little longer to cook than our pasta today, we’re still talking super mushy pasta.

So see dad? You were wrong and I was right… even if it did take me 27 years to prove it.

The fattest women in normal times?

8 Feb

Poor Mrs Hegarty! As she tells the “Medico” in an Australian Women’s Weekly article from 18 August 1945, her husband has been in New Guinea for eighteen months and he’s due back next week. She’s put on nearly three stone and she’s “just afraid of what he’ll say!”

Never fear Mrs Hegarty! Medico is here! With plenty of questionable dietary advice for everyone! But why just share nutrition advice when you can include racial stereotypes too?

While Medico praises the Scots, English and Irish for their “winsome” figures, as well as the Chinese and Hollywood stars for their ability to stay trim, the Italians are tarred with the fatty bombah brush:

“What country produces the fattest women in normal times?” I [Medico] asked.”

“”I suppose it would be the Italians.” [Mrs Hegarty]

“The Italian national food is pasta (macaroni and spaghetti), white bread, and olive oil. The macaroni is made from white flour.”

“Australians eat a lot of white flour as bread and jam, cakes and biscuits, don’t they?” said Mrs. Hegarty, “and many seem to have bother with their figures.”

“I’m afraid they do,” I replied.

If this was true, and I do doubt it was, it is certainly no longer the case. A study from The Lancet reported a few days ago found that the BMI for Italian women has fallen from 25.2 in 1980 to 24.8 in 2008, making the average Italian woman of “normal” weight.

In Britain, on the other hand, the average BMI for women has risen from 24.2 in 1980 to 26.9 in 2008, putting them in the “overweight” category.

So take that Mr Medico.

Medico.  “Eat and Grow Slim.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 August 1945, 28.