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Ketchup on your pasta? Basta! Italian food institute issues a list of rules for foreigners to follow


James Hanning
Sunday 08 September 2013 19:04 BST
Buona! Boys carry spaghetti in 1929 Naples. Inset, Gennaro Contaldo
Buona! Boys carry spaghetti in 1929 Naples. Inset, Gennaro Contaldo (Getty)

We've all committed them, but now, at last, we have no excuses. A respected food institute has listed those culinary no-nos that make Italians wince inwardly but which they are too polite to tell you about. The Parma-based Academia Barilla, which aims "to defend and safeguard Italian food products made by reputable artisans and certified denominations against poor-quality imitations", has listed ten kitchen faux pas, in order to "teach foreigners how to avoid culinary horrors" in confronting Italian food.

So now, we can be free of that feeling that the waiter is laughing up his sleeve at us. The list is compiled with a degree of self-mockery and lacks the seriousness of, say, the Académie française's strictures on the French language. Nonetheless, that's us put in our place. The rules are as follows:

* Never, ever, sip a cappuccino during a meal. (Espresso) coffee and cappuccino are Italy's pride. The first is to be consumed after a meal, and a cappuccino is for breakfast, ideally with something sweet. You can order a one after a meal but you should know an Italian would never do so.

* Risotto and pasta are not meant to accompany other dishes (apart from specialities such as l'Ossobuco alla milanese). Pasta served as if it were a veg is "a mistake committed in many other countries, but in Italy is considered sacrilegious". Gennaro Contaldo, author of several books on Italian food and Jamie Oliver's mentor, agrees. He told The IoS: "I used to see this combination of everything on a plate in Italian restaurants in the Seventies when I first came to England – I'm glad to say this has died out."

* Don't put oil in the pasta water. Any addition should be made after the pasta has been cooked.

* Ketchup on pasta. This really shocks Italians. Barilla calls it "a true culinary sin". Contaldo agrees: "I do like good ketchup, but only with chips."

* Spaghetti Bolognese? No! Probably Italy's most famous dish, yet there isn't a restaurant in Bologna that serves it. The famous sauce is traditionally cooked with tagliatelle, not spaghetti. But Contaldo thinks the report is a bit picky. Where he is from, near Naples, spaghetti is fine, though what we call "Bolognese" is generally simpler and less of a "soup" of ingredients.

* Pasta with chicken – never in Italy. Americans regard this as "typically Italian", says the report, "but we have to tell you: no one in Italy would serve such a dish". The nearest, says a conciliatory Contaldo, is chicken broth which is then cooked with tiny pasta pieces ("pastina"), eaten as a soup and followed by a chicken main course.

* "Caesar salad": unknown in Italy, even if its inventor, Caesar Cardini, was Italian.

* Red and white checked tablecloths. They don't exist in Italy, even though countless Italian restaurants abroad use them.

* "Fettuccine alfredo", a dish of noodles with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, celebrated in the States as being characteristically Italian, is, says the report, "completely unknown" in Italy. Invented in Rome by Alfredo Di Lelio, it never took off in Italy, at least with that name.

* Respect tradition and a mother's advice, namely that Italian food is to be shared with those you love. Love and family are "tutto".

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