Well who does not? That might be the more appropriate question. With age comes decay? Right? For all of us. Right?
I do not think so. Anyway, not for Mrs. Loren. I mean who else would be asked to pose, at age 72, for Pirelli’s calendar along much younger actresses such as Penélope Cruz, Naomi Watts and Hilary Swank? And what 72 year old would agree do it despite some apprehension, and pull it off? Well Mrs. Loren did.
After all, she allegedly once said: “A woman’s dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view.”
Mrs. Loren is a firm believer in good genes and inner qualities over artificial measures as a source of beauty. But, in my view at least, the real secret lies in her diet. She once admitted that, “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”.
There. You have heard it from the horse’s mouth. The secret to exquisite beauty is pasta.
Given that the earliest references to pasta as food in Italy dates back to the 13th or 14th century and that since then, Italy has produced only one Sophia Loren to date, I think Mrs. Loren might have been exceptionally modest about her own parent’s genetic contribution.
Made from unleavened flour and water (or eggs), it is cheap and easy to make and it’s own flavour neutrality combines well with almost any additional flavouring agents. These may be served as an additional sauce (pasta asciutta), as a soup (pasta in brodo) or as part of a baked dish (pasta al forno). It is one of the most versatile foods known to mankind.
In variety and appellation, pasta mirrors the confusion that defines Italian politics. In fact, the known number of pasta shapes or forms seems to exceed the number of political parties by only a small margin.
And there are at least 310 known pasta shapes or forms.
And to add to the confusion, these 310 shapes are known by 1,300 different names across different localities.
Yet, to remain wholly ignorant of the different pasta shapes would be nothing short of offensive in the eyes of any hot-blooded Italian. For shapes are matched to sauces.
The general rule is that simple sauces such as pestos go with long and thin strands of pasta, whilst thicker sauces should be matched with thicker pastas, most commonly those shaped shorter, as tubes, or twisted.
Small, short shapes such as Macaroni, Penne, Farfalle (bow-ties), Fusilli (screws), Orzo (pasta rice) could be baked and are also commonly used for pasta salads. The very small shapes such as Fregula (Italian couscous), Acini de pepe (peppercorns), Stelline (stars) and Pastina (little pasta) often find their way into soups. Mrs. Loren’s favourite, spaghetti (Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini), are matched with butter (or oil), cream (or cheese), seafood and meat sauces. Most shapes seem to match well with tomato-based sauces.
Most commercially made dried pasta is made from semolina or wheat flour. These are almost always made with water and not eggs, as is the case with fresh home- made pasta. Homemade pasta is commonly made with all-purpose flour and as a result is a much gentler texture that requires only about half the cooking time of commercial dried pasta. Typically, fresh pasta requires much gentler sauces and cream-based sauces are more popular than the more robust tomato- and meat-based sauces. Fresh pasta does not expand in size as does commercial, dried varieties and thus larger quantities are required to feed the same number of eaters. The general ratio egg-to-flour is one whole egg for every 100 grams of flour.
Homemade pasta can be made entirely by hand, but if larger quantities are made it is probably a good idea to invest in a kitchen pasta machine. These machines typically include a primary component for rolling the pasta dough into thin sheets, and a second component for cutting the rolled sheets into the desired shapes.
Pasta dough can be flavoured with sundried tomatoes to produce a red pasta, beetroot juice for a pink variety, spinach for a green one and squid ink for a black one. Chocolate pasta is made by adding good quality cocoa powder to the flour, and together with some sugar, can be used as a sweet, dessert pasta or without the sugar, as a savoury course.
The world is obsessed with pasta. In 2008, pasta sales amounted to almost US$8.5 billion in Europe alone. Not surprisingly, Italy is the world’s largest producer of dried pasta with 3,3 million tonnes in 2011, followed by the United States of America with 3 million tonnes and Brazil with 1,3 million tonnes. Italians are the world’s most prolific pasta eaters. In 2011 Italy consumed 26kg of pasta per person, followed by Venezuela (12kg/person), Tunisia 11.7kg/person) and Greece (10.4kg/person). Please note: noodle eaters are not included in this list.
This week’s recipe is my humble contribution to the world of pasta.
I thought it would be a good idea to make a pasta dish that would stand out as truly Namibian. It was not too difficult to decide on the prototypical Namibian ingredient: biltong.
But I also wanted to pay homage to the Italians, so I went with a cream and Parmesan cheese sauce. Finally, since I have some black garlic in the fridge (yes when normal garlic is fermented using heat and humidity in special ovens for three weeks or more, it turns pitch black and oh-so-sweet) to add an exotic dimension. If you can’t find black garlic – try the Internet – use ordinary garlic that you have roasted in a low oven until it is golden, soft and mushy.
But give making your own pasta a go. You might never go back to dried pasta. And although we will not achieve Mrs. Loren’s enduring good looks, at least we’ll have just as much fun eating pasta.