You’re Irish? You like to eat pasta?
No you don’t. Not really.
Each Irish person eats a grand total of 1 kg of pasta every year.
That’s less than the hardly-well-known spaghetti-loving nations Guatamala (2kg) and Dominican Republic (4kg).
Needless to say it’s nowhere near the Italians’ incredible 26kg. In fact even the rice-renowned Japanese consume more of the carb than us (1.7kgs, for the record).
Irish consumption equates to about eight platefuls per annum. That’s one measly serving every six weeks.
Part of the reason for our lamentable take-up of one of the world’s most popular food staples may be the longstanding Irish obsession with potatoes. The most recent stat I can find sees us sucking down a staggering 143kg of spuds yearly. (This is nothing compared to annual consumption of 766kg at the outbreak of the Great Famine in the 1840s, mind you).
It may also be because we prefer pizza. Or fried fast food. Who knows?
None of this occurred to me when I recently entered the kitchen, with An American In Ireland, to make some pasta.
Yes, that’s right – make. For many years pasta was something that, for me, had a five-step prep: snip, empty, boil, simmer, serve. But a successful dip a while back into the world of gnocchi-making convinced me to try making my own.
And, after three decades, I’ve also grown bored of the ‘boil, steam, bake or fry’ potato.
So pasta fresca it was. This was my first attempt too, but (as you might have read) I’m recently got hooked on the cucina povera recipes of Carluccio and Contaldo.
If I’m being honest it wasn’t the final taste I was going for (in the end I actually forgot one notable ingredient, a case of cucina idiota), nor the appearance.
What struck me as clever was the way you could mix the dough one-handed on a flat surface, by making a little crater in a mound of flour and dumping two eggs in. This was cuisine refined to a level so simple it didn’t require utensils. It was cooking, alpine style.
Pasta’s not something you should really need an individualised recipe for (at its simplest it’s all of two ingredients), but I used Contaldo’s one for tagliatelle, from his recent book.
This involved using my most versatile kitchen instrument, my right hand, to mix 300 grams of ‘00’ flour (best for pasta because of its high gluten content, food fact fans!) with 100 grams of semolina and two eggs. And pound, stretch, pound, stretch.
I took to all this with such gusto that I neglected to add the fourth ingredient, 125ml of white wine. Luckily Clare had stepped in to add some water to the mix instead, averting a dry dough disaster. Then it was a case of making a big ball of dough (like the mixing, more fun than it sounds written here), wrapping it in clingfilm and leaving it to one side for 30 minutes.
This is the point at which a sane person writes: ‘Then I took out my pasta maker’. In this case the pasta maker was me, and my wife. After some rolling and slicing we managed to cut our tagliatelle on the countertop. Foodies might call this ‘rustic’, I called it improvising.
From there it was simply a victory lap. We boiled the tangled little mounds for three minutes in salted water, and served with a mushroom and white wine we made on the side in that 30 minute window above.
So here it is. One of the eight plates of pasta that statisticians expect me to eat this year. They’ll be wrong.