Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pasta

I don't dislike pasta. On a scale of one to predictable Italian stereotype, pasta for me rates a solid five, maybe five and a half. The wide variety of forms are, when push comes to shove, largely cosmetic although not without some meaningful difference in sauce retaining capacity and beard friendliness. Hearty and easy to cook, pasta provides a reliable base for a proper meal. For any given mood, there is likely a pasta sauce that will scratch the itch if not completely satisfy.

Let's face it though, pasta is never at the top of the dinner list, it may have few flaws but it has nothing exceptional to commend it. Given the time and energy, meals would be a subtle mix of flavours and textures reflecting the creative intent of the cook and mood of the diners. Things would be sauteed, reduced, caramelized, and otherwise enhanced. On a cold Thursday night after a long day at work, however, you make pasta. You throw a couple of handfuls of crunchy yellow shrapnel into a saucepan and spend the time it takes to slightly undercook it pretending that the first four things you take out of the fridge will be a good accompaniment. This is the true role of pasta: fallback position. Sure, a little more effort can be expended to make a pasta dish good, but that same effort could be expended to be make something as good or better than pasta, leaving spaghetti mediocranara available for the next cold Thursday.

Why then, do restaurants persist in putting pasta on the menu? There is no such thing as great pasta. There's pasta that's better than average but it's not great. The very best pasta in the world is flour and water (maybe eggs) mixed together. It can't be made badly enough that there can be a really good version, you might as well claim to make the world's best glass of water. The sauce can be pretty good, but then again a similar or better sauce could be made and put on something you might actually want to eat, like a steak. So the meal itself is, by no fault of the restaurant, limited to being "yeah pretty good I guess". Combine that with the negative associations of being too enervated to cook something you are interested in eating, and what's left is the least appetizing and least impressive thing that could be put on a menu.

I know that sounds like my claims of liking pasta aren't wholly accurate but I just don't see the point in ordering something at a restaurant that you could easily make at home but choose not to because it feels like a cop out. If it's a cop out at home, what does that make it for a business whose only job is to cook? Might as well just put peanut butter toast on the menu and be done with it.

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