13.7.12

Defending pasta

How many times have you heard the following phrases?:

- "When I went to Italy I gained lots of weight because of the pasta"
- "No pasta for me, I'm on a diet"
- "Pasta makes you fat"
- "How can you live in Italy and eat all that pasta and not gain weight?"

Well, I've heard them lots of times and now it's time to defend my first Italian love, the healthy and delicious pasta, from all the nonsense. (the last question is obviously not true because I have gained some weight, but it's not pasta's fault)


First of all, pasta and rice have always been accused of causing overweight because of their contents of carbohidrates (starch) and calories. The carbs contained in pasta cover 50% of the total calories the body needs for a day. So it's good to eat pasta, also because it has a low glycemic index, which means that it releases sugar in the blood slower than other foods, therefore sugar doesn't turn into extra weight and glucose doesn't turn into fat.
Second, as with all kinds of foods, eating too much of something and not having a balanced diet makes you gain weight. Imagine if you only ate tacos, everyday; or if you ate only fish and chips or burgers. Of course you gain weight! So, have a good plate of pasta 2 or 3 times a week and balance your diet, eat fruit, veggies, proteins and everything your body needs.
Portions are key, pasta is healthy in controlled portions which should be around 80-100 grams per person. Don't eat half a kilo of pasta and then complain that you gained weight, please...
And how about sauces? Pasta is good for your body if you keep an eye on your portions, and if you prepare a healthy sauce, of course. Because it's not enough to have small portion of pasta, if you then add a greasy sauce with meat, cream, or other heavy ingredients. Try to prepare your own pasta sauce with season's ingredients, herbs and veggies. Ready-to-use pasta sauces have lots of calories, if you can't cook your own sauce then at least use less of it.
Following cooking times is also very important. pasta cooked 'al dente' has a lower glycemic index than overcooked pasta.
And don't forget that good eating habits are not enough, you have to move! walk, run, exercise in some way. This is the most difficult part for me, but I know I have to do it - and I'm not going around blaming pasta for my laziness!
So dear Mrs./Mr. when-I-went-to-Italy-pasta-made-me-gain-weight, it was not the pasta, it was all that horrible double portions of defrozen pasta you got from the tourist-trap restaurant, the double desserts and all the other treats you indulged in during your holidays... It's easy to blame it all on pasta!

And since we're at it, here are some other common mistakes (taken from this article from the Barilla Accademy) that foreigners think are typical Italian but are, in fact, not...

1- Cappuccino after a meal
There is no doubt that coffee and cappuccino are the pride of Italy in the world, but if the first is usually consumed at the end of the meal, the second, more substantial, it is usually sipped between meals, especially breakfast, accompanied by a pastry.

2- The risotto and pasta as a side dish
As we will see in a post which will be published in the next few days, the organization of courses in the Italian dining is unique and requires the pasta and – most of the time – the risotto to be served by themselves. The presentation of pasta as a side dish to others is widespread in several countries, but in Italy is seen almost as a sacrilege. - That's why you got fat, Mrs./Mr. pasta-made-me-gain-weight! (blogger's note)

3- The “Feast of the Seven Fishes”
Known in the United States as “The Vigil,” this anniversary, celebrated on the eve of Christmas, demands to dine with 7 courses of fish. Curiously, the “feast of seven fishes”, which in America is considered by many the most important Italian holiday, is actually unknown in Italy, though, especially in the south, there are pretty similar traditions and it is still a widespread custom to eat meat-free dishes in the evening of December 24.

4- The ketchup on pasta
It is one of the combinations that most shocks Italians; although ketchup may have some similarities to the tomato sauce, to pour over pasta in the “Bel Paese” is considered a real Gourmet crime.

5- Spaghetti Bolognese
It is probably the world’s most popular Italian recipe, only that it is virtually impossible to find a restaurant that serves them in Bologna.
In the home city of the Bolognese sauce, in fact, it is eaten only with fresh made “Tagliatelle all’uovo”.
Although this may seem a minor detail, in real Italian cuisine the pairing of the right kind of pasta with the right sauce is considered almost sacred.

6- The pasta with chicken
Speaking with American friends, one of the most frequent requests is the advice for a typical Italian recipe for pasta with chicken. It’s always rather embarrassing to point out that in Italy there are no recipes for pasta with chicken sauce.

7- The “Caesar salad”
This salad, which bears the name of its supposed creator, Caesar Cardini, a part of the long list of recipes devised by chefs of Italian origin, but in fact is almost unknown in Italy. - Caesar Salad, by the way, was invented in Mexico by Mr. Cardini (blogger's note).

8- The red and white chequered tablecloth
For some strange reason, these tablecloths are universally associated with our food and abroad almost all the restaurants that want to play typical Italian use them. Probably tourists who come to visit Italy remain somewhat disappointed when they discover that the chequered tablecloths are almost never used. - In fact only tourist trap restaurants have them (another blogger's note)

9- The “Fettuccine Alfredo”
This is perhaps the most curious in this top ten. The fettuccine Alfredo is both the most famous “Italian” food in the United States and the least known dish in Italy.
These noodles, seasoned with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano, are in fact actually been invented in the “Bel Paese”, specifically by Afredo Di Lelio, the owner of a restaurant in Rome, but in Italy have never been imposed as a traditional dish. Overseas, however, have become increasingly popular and in time became a symbol of the good life in Rome.
For this reason legions of American tourists coming to Italy hoping to enjoy the fettuccine Alfredo at every restaurant on the peninsula remain very disappointed.

10- Spaghetti with meatballs
One of the most famous scenes of the animated film “Lady and the Tramp” is the one where the two dogs are served on a white and red chequered tablecloth a plate of spaghetti topped by large meatballs.
Although it is known in America as an Italian recipe, this is actually a dish of Italian-American tradition.
In fact, if it is true that Southern cuisine have several recipes of pasta with meatball sauces, it is also true that these are always very small, unlike the dish now widespread in the States.

I would add a couple of my own:
11- No cream on carbonara!!! please, please, don't, that would be like hitting me in the face.
12- No parmigiano cheese on pasta with tuna (or seafood in general).
Bucatini all'amatriciana (taken from Accademia Barilla's website)