The Delia project: Does pasta need a rethink, or is it just fine as it is? We weigh it up with Delia …
I didnt realise I had grown up poor until I stopped. Looking back, the clues were there: that we bought own-brand, that it was just my mum and me and that I cant remember a time in my life that I didnt know what the word overdraft meant.
But it was only when I became an adult that I realised things we regarded as a treat were things I could now afford to do every day. It is only now that I am older than my mother was when she had me that I realise that my birth was, if not a catastrophic event in my mums life, certainly one that wrenched her life in a direction she certainly didnt expect.
I dont wish to spoil the dish of cookery writing with the unnecessary salt of politics, but there are reasons why it was easier to raise a child without much then than it would be now. A lot of why I had a happy childhood was down to my mum, to whom I owe almost everything especially the ability to make pasta. So that made me somewhat suspicious of Delias suggestion that it is time we gave pasta a radical rethink.
Im all for radically rethinking the success of austerity, say, or the literary merits of Jonathan Franzen. But pasta? Pasta, I think, is just fine as it is.
Pasta has become almost a standard British staple, Delia writes, but the trouble is that a lot of this is not, in the strictest sense, real pasta. At that point, my suspicion turned to unease.
My relationship with maths never recovered from the lesson in which we were told that a square was also a rectangle, or, in other words, that our textbooks had been gleefully lying to us for a number of years. What have I been eating all these years?
As it turns out, the pasta I learned to cook with dried pasta is A-OK. The problem is with pasta fresca: fresh pasta.
For someone who has turned her cooking smarts into a small empire of pots, pans, baking trays and handy YouTube videos, Delias inner Jeremy Corbyn is never far from the surface. The problem with pasta, she explains I promise I am not making this up is rampant capitalism.
In the beginning, pasta was made from durum wheat and dried over two days. Fresh pasta was restricted to ravioli, stuffed pasta and tortellini. But as pasta grew in popularity and profit margins came into play, Delia mutters darkly pastas that ought to remain dry were mass-produced with soft flour and eggs, which Delia derides as slithery, slimy gloop.
Fresh pasta should be restricted to its original purpose, commands Delia: Once you taste quality dried pasta, it will be very hard for you to return to the industrially produced alternatives. To see if shes right, I scour the local supermarkets for fresh penne and conduct a blind taste test. And she is right: dried is better.
That said, shes a bit like one of those soldiers who emerged from the jungle 40 years after the second world war ended, convinced that the fighting is still going on, as it is increasingly hard to find the wrong fresh pasta in shops. Perhaps thats because, like my mothers influence on my own cooking, much of Delias impact on all our dinner plates and shopping baskets is as unnoticed as it is significant.
- Stephen Bushs task was to cook his way through Delias Complete How To Cook (BBC Books, 40) in a year.
- You can watch Delia Smiths free Online Cookery School videos at deliaonline.com; @deliaonline Stephen Bush is a writer and a columnist for the New Statesman @stephenkb
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