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Why Do Italians Eat Pasta on Sunday?

Written by Danielle Oteri

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 a while, when my brother and I are both visiting our parents, or for a birthday or special occasion.

rigatoni with Italian red sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

But why do Italians eat pasta on Sunday? Hasn’t Lidia Bastianich 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.

rigatoni with Italian red sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

homemade fusilli in red sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

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.

homemade fusilli
Photo: Casey Barber

Or for more details on making homemade pasta, watch the full step-by-step Good. Food. Stories. video tutorial.

homemade fusilli

Homemade Fusilli

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Why do Italians eat pasta on Sunday? It's a ritual that started as Italian immigrants blended their various cultural traditions in America. Try your hand with this homemade fusilli.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (16 ounces; 454 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon water, plus more as needed

Instructions

  1. Mound the flour on a pastry board or other clean work surface.
  2. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs, olive oil, and salt to the center of the flour. 
  3. Using a fork, gently begin mixing the eggs and oil into the flour, adding water as needed until a shaggy dough forms. 
  4. Using your hands, slowly incorporate the rest of the flour and knead dough until the texture is consistent. 
  5. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  6. Using your palm, pull off small balls of dough and roll into cigarette-shaped pieces. 
  7. Gently lay the pasta shapes on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet or floured tray. 
  8. Continue until dough has all been used.

To cook:

  1. Bring a large (8-quart) pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. 
  2. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the pasta floats.
  3. Serve with tomato sauce or with a meat ragù.

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2 Comments

  1. not exactly. salerno is the province which is part of the region of campania. cilento is an Italian geographical region of Campania in the central and southern part of the Province of Salerno; and the places that make up the provinces are comuni. there are not multiple provinces in salerno. Napoli is a province as well. part of the Campania region.

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