Spaghetti — by far the most popular noodle dish. They are regularly served in almost all parts of the world and are popular with young and old alike.
Spaghetti — no other dish has so many appearances in film and television. And no other dish has been photographed so often with Hollywood legends that one could almost think that only the spaghetti moment captured on celluloid would cement the star’s fame for good.
Spaghetti — no other food is surrounded by so many myths and beliefs that there is almost something mystical about it.
Like hardly any other dish, spaghetti can be prepared in so many different ways and almost every region has its spaghetti favorite. But only one spaghetti dish tastes best to all people: the one that is prepared uncompromisingly according to personal taste.
If you live with someone, you know exactly what I am talking about. I only get my “spaghetti senza compromessi” once or twice a year — whenever I am really alone for several days or I don’t need to cook for others.
But the reality in most multi-person households is: All acceptable spaghetti dishes are negotiated in advance and bindingly agreed upon in a kind of unwritten “mutual spaghetti cooking contract”. Violations will be punished with withdrawal of love.
Sandra for example is not such a big spaghetti fan. When we cook spaghetti, there must be at least and always (lots of) vegetables. At least I could get her away from whole grain spaghetti. Therefore, eating spaghetti means for both of us: an always welcome compromise meal — quickly prepared, satisfying and usually very tasty.
In our circle of friends and acquaintances, on the other hand, the situation looks bleak — for men: women have asserted themselves almost everywhere. There, only whole grain or spelt spaghetti with ingredients such as quinoa, parsnips and savoy cabbage are cooked and crucified — all under the guise of a healthy diet for body and soul, of course.
What about soul?
For me, Spaghetti senza compromessi are something like soul spaghetti, or more simply put: male spaghetti. Uncompromising according to individual preferences, conspired and often enjoyed in secret — prepared by men for men who are left to themselves.
My special men’s spaghetti recipe is presented at the end of this article. It would be exactly the spaghetti dish I would like to have as my last meal. And I would be mortally offended even before my official execution if I did not get it served exactly according to this recipe.
Life Without Parole — Worse Than Death
There is a bizarre story that I like to tell to emphasize the importance of men’s spaghetti.
Thomas J. Grasso was a 32-year-old American who had strangled an 87-year-old woman with the lights of her Christmas tree on Christmas Eve 1990. Just six months later, he killed an 81-year-old man in order to steal his Social Security check.
Grasso was sentenced to life in prison in New York in 1992.
A life sentence without parole seemed worse than death to Grasso, so he wanted his sentence commuted to the death penalty, which was made possible by a workaround through extradition to Oklahoma.
For his “last meal” he asked for: two dozen steamed mussels, two dozen steamed clams (seasoned with lemon), a double cheeseburger from Burger King, half a dozen barbecued spare ribs, two strawberry milkshakes, half a pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and a few sliced strawberries, and finally: a can of SpaghettiOs with meatballs in tomato sauce — served at room temperature.
Apart from this unprecedentedly disgusting menu selection: SpaghettiOs — no joke. Served at room temperature! So that was Grasso’s men’s spaghetti.
SpaghettiOs are small spaghetti noodles shaped into an “O”, marketed by Campbell’s in various preparations mainly to parents of small children, because they are eaten with spoons and thus cause less chaos and stains for children — so the theory goes.
Logically, Grasso spent the hours before his execution in March 1995 by lethal injection primarily taking his last meal — and giving some light-weight food for thought and poetry as statements to the press.
So for example his first: “What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
Remarkable, however, was his fourth and last statement, which he had passed on to the media while still alive, about one hour before his execution. It consisted of this single sentence:
“I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti.”
No trace of remorse. No request for forgiveness. No word to God, the families of the victims or his own family.
Apparently he just wanted to tell the public that he hadn’t even got his favorite spaghetti right before his execution. True to the motto: “Dear universe, we are now quit — my crime has been atoned for”.
After his execution, justice officials distributed copies of a very last, hastily scribbled last statement by Grasso, in which he — among other things — mentioned: “I give my life because it is the most precious act of remorse I can make.“
In this statement, he also admitted that for a double murderer, being allowed to die was an act of mercy, because it freed him from the relentless captivity that he feared more than death.
A thought that may not have pleased many pro-death penalty advocates at the time in the United States, as some states began to reintroduce the death penalty.
In any case, his last statement did not find much publicity. So what is left of the Thomas J. Grasso case: He did not get his spaghetti. At least this important statement made it into his Wikipedia entry.
My recipe for men’s spaghetti has now gone through 2 iterations. Currently I’m at version 3 — the recipe I’ll introduce to you at the end.
Version 1 “Beef Spaghetti” developed from a recipe of my mother. She adapted a classic Greek dish for it, which the Greeks call “Giouvetsi”.
For Giouvetsi, pieces of meat are braised in tomato sauce. Then the braised meat is baked in the oven with rice noodles. Greeks usually use veal or lamb for this.
My mother’s recipe used beef, which she had stewed extra long. In the end, she simply had to add the spaghetti to the tomato sauce with the braised beef and the delicious spaghetti dish was ready — no need to bake it in the oven.
Beef spaghetti was my men’s spaghetti throughout my youth and for a few years afterwards. That changed when I moved away in my twenties and from then on had to cook for myself.
Which brought me to men’s spaghetti Version 2: “Fake Spaghetti-Carbonara” — since I never really liked bacon or the like, I first left it out completely and later replaced it with fried mushrooms every now and then.
If it was foreseeable that I would manage to completely use up a box of 6 eggs within the next few days, I used — as in the original recipe — eggs for the carbonara, otherwise whipped cream.
Version 2 unfortunately did not last long. I got to know Sandra — as I said: not a great spaghetti fan and — to my misery (and somehow also luck) — an apostle of healthy nutrition.
We soon moved in together, and the rare occasions when I could have cooked my men’s spaghetti did not offer enough time to cover the tracks.
The only way to keep version 2 running over a longer period of time would have been to prove to her that I was participating, under medical supervision, in a WHO-sponsored study on the long-term effects of occasional malnutrition in adults.
Version 3 of my men’s spaghetti preparation “Spaghetti al pomodoro parmigiano e balsamico (e ancora più parmigiano)” developed from a moody, borderline experiment that I wanted to try out on my own body — for reasons that are no longer quite comprehensible to me today and against the strongest resistance from Sandra.
It was about finding out how much weight I could lose if I strictly adhered to all the dietary rules known to me over a period of 3 months.
I weighed 70 kilos then, not exactly overweight for a man in his thirties. And all I really knew about diets was: do a lot of sport, don’t drink alcohol, no carbohydrates after 6:00 p.m.
Actress Christine Kaufmann once said the latter on a talk show — she looked very credible. So I took the tip and changed my diet in the following weeks so that I took my main meal during the lunch break.
Since it had to be quick and the canteen was out of the question, I usually went to the Italian restaurant and ordered side salad and simple spaghetti alla Napoletana (spaghetti with tomato sauce), once a week there was Pizza Margherita. Of these two dishes, I was able to determine the calorie count with some certainty.
With the side salad I could never decide between vinegar-oil and yoghurt dressing. Until I came up with the idea of mixing some balsamico into the yoghurt dressing — that way I had the best of both worlds.
The waitress — a Greek woman — from then on placed the bottle of balsamico on my table without being asked. And where balsamico is available in large quantities, abuse is not far away.
At first I just poured a small shot of balsamic vinegar over the spaghetti, later I drowned the spaghetti in it — my desperate attempt to get some more umami out of the dish.
The waitress watched this very closely, just as I lost more and more weight over time, until after some time my cheekbones appeared unfavorably.
In the months of my experiment I had lost 14 kilos in weight. Friends, acquaintances and colleagues were worried. My boss asked me to have a confidential conversation. And Sandra accused me of being irresponsible with my health.
As I mentioned before: it was “only” an experiment that was to end after 3 months. The last day of the experiment coincidentally fell on the last working day of the Greek waitress.
When we said goodbye, she confessed to me that she had secretly tried the spaghetti-balsamico recipe for a while because she wanted to lose weight as well. But that did not work for her.
I understood at once that she had fallen victim to the coincidence of my weight loss with the excessive consumption of spaghetti and balsamic vinegar, and that she had created a myth of her own.
My weight loss was largely due to not drinking alcohol and a lot of exercise. The story about “no carbohydrates after 6 p.m.” only helped to control my daily calorie intake, otherwise it seems to me to be complete nonsense.
But I liked the thought of having been involved in the creation of a spaghetti myth. So I kept the truth from the waitress and encouraged her to try again — but to eat spaghetti with tomato/balsamic sauce at least 5 times a week. Then it will work for sure.
Since then I have never seen her again. I hope she is well.
In general, people always seem to give in to myths about pasta — and spaghetti in particular.
Considering how long mankind has known pasta, it is even more astonishing that even in the middle of the 20th century adult people still believe in fake news about the production of spaghetti.
This is what happened in Great Britain — to a people who until then had actually gotten around quite well in the world and cultivated their own acronym for Spaghetti Bolognese: “Spag Bol”.
On April 1, 1957, following a news broadcast, the BBC broadcast a three-minute report about spaghetti farmers in the Swiss Ticino, who in that year were especially happy about the early blossoming and arrival of the bees.
The report explained that particularly critical for the spaghetti harvest are the last two weeks of March, which can still bring frost and are therefore very feared by the farmers.
And if the frost does not ruin the entire spaghetti harvest, the quality of the pasta suffers and, as a result, prices on the world’s stock markets fall.
With such and similarly absurd details about the spaghetti harvest, beautiful pictures of happy spaghetti farmers on the Swiss-Italian border followed, carefully picking the spaghetti from the trees by hand.
Many people believed the report and called the BBC to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. The answer: “Put a spaghetti twig in a can of tomato sauce and hope for the best”.
Spa Day — With Spaghetti To A Dream Body
„Better an extra plate of spaghetti than half an inch less waist.“
- Luciana Littizzetto, Italian comedian and actress
Noodles do not make you fat and it has long been proven that they can help overweight people lose weight. This is because foods with a low glycemic index are digested more slowly and therefore keep you sated for longer while providing sufficient energy.
Tour de France riders also take advantage of this feature: During a normal stage they consume up to 6000 Kcal — during mountain stages almost twice that amount.
No wonder that noodles are on their nutrition schedule in the morning before the race and in the evening. The fact that spaghetti is even eaten while driving should remain the exception.
The fact that spaghetti also helps you achieve your dream body is another myth. This quote is attributed to the Italian film diva Sophia Loren:
„Everything you see I owe to spaghetti“.
You read it all the time and do not doubt in the slightest that she could not have said it.
Sophia Loren: Sex symbol, world star, still Italy’s most famous woman. At the age of 72 she still posed in negligee for the Pirelli calendar. And she owes her curves to spaghetti — not pasta, explicitly: spaghetti.
When I once researched the context in which she is said to have said the spaghetti quote, I was particularly interested in the exact wording of the question.
The only thing I found in this regard, she said in an interview with the New York Times — she was asked about it directly. Her answer:
“Non è vero! It’s not true! It’s such a silly thing. I owe it to spaghetti, no, no. Completely made up.”
I mean: where does the quote come from, if not from her? You don’t just make something like that up.
But even without Sophia Loren: Spaghetti have gained so much importance in our lives that we even dedicate a special day of remembrance to them worldwide: Spaghetti Day is January 4th.
For comparison: We celebrate the day of the whipped cream only one day later, on 5 January.
Spaghetti Day is generally celebrated by preparing a portion of spaghetti. On social media the hashtag #SpaghettiDay is used as a reference.
Today is #SpaghettiDay 🍝 And there's no better place to have spaghetti than when #YoureAtJoeys…
„The Italians have only two things on their minds: the other is spaghetti.“
- Catherine Deneuve, French actress
Code of Spaghetti
In another article I once wrote about the marketing expert and social psychologist Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, who was hired by a US company to decipher the code for coffee in America.
It is important to know that Rapaille does not believe in traditional market research. For him, it does not explain the real reasons why consumers choose certain products.
Decisions are supposedly made from a collective subconscious that is formed at an early age and wired into one of the oldest areas of our brain that we share with reptiles.
“Reptillian Hot Button” — this is what Rapaille calls the button that must be pressed to stimulate the only true and most effective motive for customers buying things.
For the US company, for example, Rapaille found out that the code for coffee in America is not the taste or any lifestyle aspects, but simply the aroma.
This is due to the fact that most young people associate the aroma of coffee with their childhood at home: The mother prepares breakfast, the smell of coffee is in the air. Home is where we are loved and safe. And where we are safe and are loved, it smells of coffee.
Advertising for the company’s coffee brand was promptly geared to the aroma and the brand became a success.
If there is a code for coffee, there must also be one for spaghetti. Maybe even several, depending on the culture.
How do I come up with that? I only have to recall all the movies with famous spaghetti scenes.
The code of spaghetti, the subtle message that the respective moviemaker wants to convey with the spaghetti scene, can vary. Sometimes it can be revealed immediately, and sometimes only afterwards — in retrospect.
Eat, Pray, Love
Take this prominent spaghetti scene from “Eat, Pray, Love”, for example. Julia Roberts is sitting at a restaurant table in Rome, Italy, while waiting for her ordered meal.
She briefly observes a young couple kissing intimately on the public street opposite, while he slips his hand under her negligee and tenderly strokes her belly.
Then the waiter comes and serves her the meal: Spaghetti al Pomodoro. She looks briefly at her plate when she gets the inspiration to imitate a certain eroticism by latently lascivious consumption of her spaghetti.
Accompanied by Mozart’s Aria of the Queen of the Night from the Magic Flute, the scene finally culminates in a climax sprinkled with Parmesan — oral sex with spaghetti.
For me, the spaghetti scene is not quite comprehensible. Either it is because of the implausible performance of Julia Roberts or simply because I associate other connotations with “spaghetti” that have nothing in common with eroticism.
The famous spaghetti scene from the film “The Apartment” with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine corresponds more to my connotation — my code — of spaghetti: family intimacy, care, comfort.
In the film, Jack Lemmon plays the young employee “Bud”, who from time to time lends his apartment in Manhattan to a few executives of his company, who secretly live out their love affairs there. In return, he hopes to advance his career.
One day, the company’s personnel manager meets there with the elevator operator “Fran”, played by the super sweet Shirley MacLaine. Bud has also fallen in love with her.
When Bud returns to his apartment, he discovers a forgotten powder box with a broken mirror and hands it over to the personnel manager the next day.
At the Christmas party, Fran is told by a secretary that the personnel manager is only taking advantage of her, just like other female employees, and never has the intention to leave his wife.
At the same time, Bud recognizes the powder box with the broken mirror at the Christmas party — it belongs to Fran. This makes him realize that Fran is having an affair with the personnel manager.
What happens next is clear: Bud drowns his grief in alcohol, Fran goes back to the apartment and attempts suicide with sleeping pills.
When Bud returns to his apartment, he finds Fran lying in his bed. He immediately calls his neighbor, a doctor, for help. To protect both his and her job, he lets the doctor believe that she accidentally swallowed too many pills after an argument “among lovers” with him.
To recover, Fran spends a full two days in Bud’s apartment, while Bud does his best to entertain her and distract her from suicidal thoughts. Among other things, he cooks spaghetti for her — using a tennis racket as a noodle strainer. He is cheerful and sings.
She — in a bathrobe and already visibly recovered — sticks her head into the kitchen and asks: “Are we dressing for dinner? He answers: “No, just come as you are.”
I am sure: there is no place in the world where they would rather be right now.
A similar message is conveyed by the spaghetti scene in the movie “The Godfather”. Strictly speaking, it is the spaghetti sauce to which Francis Ford Coppola dedicates almost an entire minute in one of the best films of all time.
The scene shows “Clemenza” cooking. When “Michael Corleone” enters the scene, Clemenza takes him aside and explains to him that he must learn to prepare a proper spaghetti sauce for the men. This could become important one day.
Clemenza names the ingredients and briefly explains the recipe, Michael watches him uninvolved.
Why is the scene important? Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the film, once claimed that he had included the recipe in the script, because if the film flopped, you would at least learn how to make a great spaghetti sauce.
This — of course — is complete nonsense. Nobody — and certainly not Francis Ford Coppola — would create such a scene just to suggest a recipe to the audience.
No, here too the scene conveys a coded message: although they are dangerous mafiosi, the scene mediates another important side of the mafia family: namely that of the caring people who take care of their loved ones.
They do this, among other things, by sharing traditional food, which they prepare with care and according to old recipes from their Italian-American homeland.
A film scene that also exploits the connotation of family intimacy conveyed by the code of spaghetti is the dinner scene in the film “A Fatal Attraction”, starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.
Michael Douglas plays “Dan”, a successful lawyer who is happily married. He meets the attractive “Alex”, fantastically played by Glenn Close.
When Dan’s family leaves town for a weekend, Dan sleeps with Alex. Up to this point it is the story of a sex affair — and a man cheating on his wife. No one has ever given hope or created false expectations.
If you know the end of the movie, this scene makes you shiver. Because this is the (key) scene that provides the motive for the further development of the story — which turns a love drama into a horror plot.
The two prepare for a cosy dinner in Alex’s apartment. There is spaghetti — “speciality of the house”, she says. And that he should feel at home.
“It smells so good,” he says. And that it fits perfectly with the opera that is currently running in the background: Puccini’s Madame Butterfly — surprisingly the favorite opera of both, as it turns out.
It was his first opera: His father took him to the Met when he was only 5 years old. She asks if he understood anything. He replies that he understood most of it. He especially remembers the last act. His father whispered in his ear, “Oh, God, she’s gonna kill herself.”
He had become terribly afraid and hid under the chair. Finally he recalls that this was the only time in his life when his father comforted him — at Madame Butterfly.
Dan makes Madame Butterfly above all a personal victim narrative. And reveals a man who is unable to see in Butterfly the fatally ending fate of a deceived woman whom he — figuratively speaking — is currently cheating on himself.
First he cheats on his wife by sleeping with Alex, and then he cheats on Alex, who he grants the feeling of family intimacy without leaving any doubt about where he belongs and that she is outside of it — his family.
A the-winner-takes-it-all mentality that will take bitter revenge on him later. For Alex it is now clear that she does not want to share the fate of Madame Butterfly. She will fight for her fortune to the utmost — the story takes its fatal course.
I doubt that this scene would have worked with any other dinner meal than spaghetti — especially not with sushi.
Spaghetti al pomodoro parmigiano e balsamico (e ancora più parmigiano)
The basic recipe for my men’s spaghetti comes from the time of my experiment with the spaghetti diet and is based on the recipe for Spaghetti alla Napolitana, with the difference that it does not need any fresh ingredients (how convenient) and does not require cooking or other dishes that are not dishwasher safe.
The following ingredients are needed for one portion:
- 125 grams of spaghetti (half of half of a 500 gram package)
- 200 grams or half a can of tomatoes (pulp or chopped into small pieces)
- 25 grams parmesan (grated)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Aceto Balsamico
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
Preparation is fast and super easy.
And so it goes:
1. Cook the spaghetti
(Since it is ridiculous to cook 125 grams of spaghetti, you simply take half the package — 250 grams — and keep the rest of the spaghetti in the refrigerator. For example, the next day you can quickly fry the pasta in a pan with some oil and garlic).
Place a large pot with 2.5 liters of water on the stove and bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, salt it and add the spaghetti. After half a minute stir until all spaghetti is covered with water.
From then on, the minutes count until the pasta is cooked al dente. Stir briefly every 2 minutes.
2. Prepare the sauce
In a smaller pot, put half of the tin with the tomato pulp and heat it up. Immediately afterwards add half of the grated Parmesan cheese. Stir well.
Just before the tomato sauce begins to simmer slightly, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of oregano. Stir well.
Now lower the temperature slightly, but keep it hot until the spaghetti is done.
3. Mix spaghetti with sauce
Once the spaghetti is cooked “al dente”, drain the water from the pot. Simply put the lid on and leave a gap open — the water does not need to be completely drained off.
Then put a portion of spaghetti in the small pot with the sauce and mix well.
4. Serve the spaghetti
Pour the spaghetti from the pot onto the plate and slowly sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over it. Finally, pour about one tablespoon of Aceto Balsamico over the spaghetti with the Parmesan shavings, pepper to taste and serve the dish for immediate consumption.
5. Enjoy spaghetti consciously
If you manage to eat the delicious spaghetti only with a fork and don’t stain yourself, an angel in heaven will get his wings.
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The original German version of this article was published under the title “Männerspaghetti” on vita-contemplativa.com.