Italian-Americans are well known for keeping the pasta sabbath. Every Sunday around 2:00 or 3:00 pm, the whole family (and likely some extra cousins) will sit down for a big pasta meal. This is the way it has been done for most first- and second-generation Italian families.
But this modern life makes it hard to hold fast to such traditions. Many families like mine do Sunday pasta only once in awhile, when my brother and I are both visiting our parents, or for a birthday or special occasion. But why do we do this? Hasn’t Mario Batali let us all know by now that there’s more to Italian cooking than pasta and red sauce?
Much of this has to do with the fact that many Italian-Americans come from the provinces of Salerno, also known as the Cilento. There, Sunday dinner means hand-made fusilli, tomato sauce or meat ragù, and large gatherings of families. In New York, large communities of Cilentese settled in Italian Harlem (East Harlem), the Belmont section of the Bronx, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In these neighborhoods, Sicilians, Neapolitans, Calabrians, and Apulians lived together as they hadn’t in Italy. Their traditions, their families and their Sunday dinner recipes blended and soon created the culture that made them Italian-Americans.
Pasquale Maio runs the American arm of Cilento Experience, which presents gastronomical tours in the Cilento. He explains:
“According to tradition, fusilli were only freshly made to honor Ferragosto, Easter and Christmas. But this succulent, typically Cilentano dish is eaten on Sundays for the family reunion or to celebrate a special occasion and relax at home with family. My bisnonna (great-grandmother) always says to me that one must have fusilli al ragù as a Sunday meal and if you have guests you have to respect them by making fresh pasta.”
Here’s a simple recipe from Pasquale’s family for fresh Sunday fusilli, or, fusiddi, as they say in the Cilento.
Prep time:30 minutes
Total time:1 hour 30 minutes
Makes 8-10 servings
- 2 pounds (32 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- room temperature water as needed
Prepare flour into a fountain shape on a pastry board.
Add eggs, oil, and water to the center of the flour. Using a fork, mix together all ingredients and combine well. Using your hands, slowly incorporate the rest of the flour and knead dough until the texture is consistent. Set aside for a half hour.
Using your palm, pull off small balls of dough and roll into cigarette-shaped pieces. Gently remove from board and lay pasta on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet or floured tray. Continue until dough has all been used.
To cook pasta, bring a large (8-quart) pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the pasta floats.
Once pasta has been cooked, prepare with tomato sauce or with a meat ragù.