Simply Spaghetti: An Unconventional History


Spaghetti is the most popular form of pasta in the world. In 2010 it accounted for two-thirds of global pasta consumption. Made from durum-wheat flour and water, you might consider spaghetti to be the chameleon of pastas, as it’s constantly reinventing itself. This last reinvention came at the end of the Second World War, when America invented canned spaghetti and thus launched the empire of Chef Boyardee.

 While canned spaghetti is definitely not Italian, the word spaghetti and its image are synonymous with the Italian way of life.  Scholars estimate that spaghetti was first produced some time between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1800s when machines helped increase the rate of production that spaghetti became widely available.

 In 1839 the very first recipe for spaghetti al pomodoro, often considered the original spaghetti dish, first appeared in a book by the Duke of Buonvicino, Ippolito Cavalcanti’s Cucina teorico pratica.

 In the north of Italy people prefer to cook their spaghetti longer. In the south, people prefer to eat it al dente. Sauces and herbs will change with the seasons and everyone, I mean everyone, has a secret marinara recipe. 

 In Naples you can find the famous spaghetti alla puttanesca, also known as “whore’s pasta.” It has been said that the proprietor of a brothel originally cooked this pasta in order to give his customers energy. Others say that this dish was simply inspired by the colors of the ladies’ undergarments.

 Whether you choose to eat your pasta in a simple tomato sauce, or covered in basil and extra virgin olive oil, you can never go wrong with spaghetti. There are more spaghetti recipes than any other type of pasta, and no two spaghetti dishes will ever taste the same—just the way Italians would prefer it.

 Below is a recipe for spaghetti alla puttanesca from Jacob Kenedy of Boca di Lupo in London.


  • ½ pound spaghetti
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup salted capers, soaked until tolerably salty, then drained
  • ¾ cup black olives, pitted and roughly chopped (4   ounces)
  • 4 anchovy filets, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup light tomato sauce or tomato passata
  • ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh basil, or ¾ tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

 Cook the spaghetti in boiling, well-salted water. A few minutes before the pasta is cooked, heat a wide frying pan until smoking hot. Add the oil, followed immediately by the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Fry for a minute until the garlic just starts to colour and the tomatoes soften. Add the capers, olives, and anchovy, reduce the heat to medium, and fry for a minute before adding the tomato sauce.

 Simmer for a minute or so until the pasta is cooked a touch more al dente than you want it on the plate; drain it and add to the sauce along with the herbs. Stir together for 30 seconds over heat, adding plenty of black pepper but probably no extra salt. Serve straightaway.









One thought on “Simply Spaghetti: An Unconventional History

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