By Ashlee Abel
Arriving in Italy, I had an idea that American Italian food wasn't authentic, but I didn’t know how different it would be. On the first day of learning my way around the beautiful city of Arezzo, I noticed Italians really do adore their pasta. As I strolled past dozens of eateries through tiny alleyways, I saw dishes upon dishes of pasta. Every plate contained noodles of different shapes and sizes, which is something I haven’t seen before, even at high-end restaurants in the states.
Back in Oklahoma, we tend to overcook our pasta to where it practically falls apart, which I didn’t notice until I took my first bite here in Italy at Tortello Divino. I looked at the menu when we were seated at a table of 10 in a little piazza. I ordered the dish that was easiest to pronounce because, shame on me, I speak almost no Italian, and I didn’t want to hassle my waiter with a conversation over Google Translate. After a not-so-patient wait, the server placed my order in front of me. I instantly noticed the noodles had a considerably thicker consistency and were difficult to cut through. The noodles were quite firm, allowing me to slow down and truly take in every forkful, which only enhanced the flavor of the dish.
Knowing that these family-owned restaurants create their pasta from scratch every morning gives every bite more meaning. It was a nice change considering it is fairly uncommon to receive homemade entrées in America. As I ate, I remembered my mother telling me pasta in Italy isn't cooked as long, giving the noodles a chewier texture. The phrase "al dente" came to mind. In Italian, al dente means "to the tooth" and refers to the quick cooking time used in their historic cuisine. Since learning to appreciate Italian noodles, I've also noticed Americans prefer to drown pasta in sauce, which is not a popular practice in Italy. The noodles here are simply coated, allowing an ideal balance of salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami.
Eating authentic pasta in Italy has been incredibly special to me. I now know generations have passed down their best techniques and methods, resulting in a stunning, homemade style of pasta known as al dente. The history of pasta shows that some traditions evolve, while al dente is timeless.
Editors: Grace Tipps, Aly O'Shea, Taylor Glissman
Photographer: Emily Turner