Warning: this article contains some explicit pasta content, reader discretion is advised.
Earlier this month, we asked the Great British Public to tell us some of their deepest, darkest secrets. No, not that kind of secret… Instead, we wanted to hear about the UK’s secret pasta sins: how do Brits really cook and eat pasta when no-one is watching?
With Head Chef Roberta d’Elia acting as pasta priestess, we challenged Brits to confess their crimes against pasta. From those who were unknowingly guilty of breaking Italian pasta etiquette, to others who revel in showing reckless disregard for the time-honoured traditions of Italian cuisine, we wanted to hear it all.
Your pasta sins
And hear it all we did. People from across the UK visited our virtual confession booth to share their guilty pasta pleasures, from the borderline acceptable (we’re certainly guilty of getting greedy with our pasta portions sometimes) to the downright disrespectful (squirty cream in spaghetti bolognese, anyone?).
It doesn’t stop there either. Some Brits showed a penchant for adding breakfast condiments to pasta – with marmite, honey and even strawberry jam making an appearance in our confession booth. All manner of pasta fusions also cropped up, from Mexitalian (carbonara burritos), to Indo-Italian (butter chicken mac and cheese) and the one sinner who prefers pasta over roasties when it comes to Christmas dinner.
The top 5 crimes against pasta
While we’re not in the business of naming and shaming, it’s clear that the UK needs to confront these crimes against pasta head on. Only after this, can the country be truly cleansed of its sins.
So, without further ado, here’s our round-up of the UK’s five most common pasta sins.
1. Pairing pasta with ketchup
Comfortably the most commonly confessed sin was a love for the combination of pasta and tomato ketchup. Brits came to us in their droves to admit they were partial to the pairing, but it was the sheer variety of combinations that took us by surprise. From dipping lasagne in ketchup, to squeezing the red stuff over pesto pasta and even using ketchup as a standalone pasta sauce, we heard confessions concerning all kinds of unholy matrimonies.
It’s a widespread misconception that Italians hate ketchup by default – you will find the red stuff in Italy, but only really alongside fast foods like burgers, hotdogs and fries. As Chef Roberta explains: “In Italy you’ll hardly ever find ketchup in a restaurant, and you’ll never see any self-respecting Italians put it on their pasta – never mind using it instead of tomato sugo! We have so many classic sauces to dress our pasta with, why would we need to?”
2. Mixing mayo and pasta
Following hot on ketchup’s heels was another classic condiment: mayonnaise. Plenty of Brits confessed that they were partial to marrying mayo with any pasta dish they ate, but by far the most popular pairing was (look away now Italians) mayonnaise and bolognese.
Like ketchup, you’ll find mayonnaise in Italy, but you’re more likely to see it made from scratch with olive oil and served alongside fried fish than anywhere near pasta. Over to Chef Roberta: “I’ve used mayonnaise in a cold pasta salad before (even if it’s not traditionally Italian), but topping hot pasta with mayonnaise? Mamma mia! That’s a cardinal sin.”
3. Not cooking pasta properly
Look, we know there’s a knack to cooking pasta to perfection, but that’s no excuse for some of the pasta-cooking atrocities we heard in our confession booth. From boiling pasta in the kettle, to microwaving it in a bowl of water until barely cooked, Brits fessed up to a host of, ahem, ‘creative’ techniques.
We’re sorry, but we can’t endorse such practices. Not only does using a kettle or a microwave make it much harder to achieve that perfect al dente bite, in the case of the kettle technique it also means you’re likely to end up with limescale-coated pasta, a starchy cup of tea the next day, or both. Chef Roberta wasn’t too impressed either: “Cooking pasta in the kettle? Darling, my mamma would keel over. Fresh pasta cooks so quickly, it doesn’t even save you much time! Anyone cooking pasta in a kettle instead of a pan needs to make an appointment to come to my Pasta Academy for a cooking class with Chef Roberta.”
4. Adding cream to a carbonara
Let’s get one thing clear, a classic Roman carbonara doesn’t include cream. In Rome, where the dish originates from, carbonara is traditionally made with nothing but guanciale (cured pig’s cheek), egg yolks, pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper. In Rome at least, the Brits who told us they add cream to their carbonara would be considered sinners.
We’re torn here, though. Whilst we’re committed fans of the classic incarnation, our very own 'Carbonara of Dreams' recipe does include a provocative dash of cream for an indulgent twist. And seeing as it’s one of our most popular dishes, we’re happy with our choice. For Chef Roberta, both versions can coexist happily: “When I want something quick, satisfying and whole-heartedly Italian, I whip up a classic carbonara. When I’m looking for luxury – say for a dinner party or date night – I’ll add a dash of cream. Just don’t tell my nonna.”
5. Eating pasta with baked beans
Forget Weetabix and baked beans – if our confession booth is anything to go by, you’re more likely to find Brits eating pasta with the nation’s favourite tinned food. Penne with baked beans and cheddar cheese was the most commonly confessed pairing, with some Brits claiming their love for the combination first started in their school canteen.
You won’t find baked beans and pasta on our menu anytime soon, but as Chef Roberta explains the pairing of beans and pasta is actually more Italian than you might think: “Pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) is eaten all over Italy, although each region has its own version. What’s important is that the beans are fresh or dried, you won’t catch an Italian using tinned beans for their pasta e fagioli.” Northern Italian versions are more likely to centre around borlotti beans, egg pasta, pancetta and butter, while in the south, cannellini beans, dried pasta, tomatoes and olive oil dominate. So next time you’re craving pasta and beans, why not give pasta e fagioli a try?
It doesn’t have to be this way…
Keen to right your own pasta wrongs? Our guide has the full lowdown on how to serve and eat pasta like a true Italian.
Or if you feel like you need some in-person guidance, why not pay a visit to our Pasta Academy, where Chef Roberta and her team of sfogline would be delighted to set you on the path to pasta virtue.