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Pasta Alla Inglese

November 11, 1998|CHARLES PERRY

Pasta has had its ups and downs in the English-speaking world. Before it became ultra-fashionable in foodie and carbo-loading circles 15 years ago, it had been synonymous with cheap eats since the 1890s, when Italian immigrants brought spaghetti and macaroni into the American mainstream.

But before the 1890s, pasta was an elegant foreign delicacy. Eighteenth century English dandies were known as macaronis because of their taste for foreign luxuries (the feather in Yankee Doodle's hat, which he called macaroni, is a mocking reference to the fact that Mr. Doodle was just an American country boy). Thomas Jefferson and other Colonial-era sophisticates loved macaroni and cheese.

Pasta had also been fashionable at the English court in the 14th century. As food historian Constance Hieatt points out, medieval England was far more noodle-conscious than France, because it had political ties with the Norman rulers of Sicily.

So the recipe collections of Edward III (1312-1377) and Richard II (1377-1400) include macrows (macaroni, at the time a flat noodle), losyns (lasagna) and papdele. The last name has puzzled historians, though it's clearly pappardelle, still the preferred pasta to go with hare in Italy, as it was in 14th century England. English ravioli goes back even a little further than any of these; the world's oldest ravioli recipe is from late 13th century England.

Pasta never developed roots in England, and it was evidently forgotten after the 15th century. And the English versions occasionally wandered from their Italian roots. Some English rafyols were stuffed with saffron-scented cheese and boiled in the usual way, but one recipe is actually baked meat pies the size of apples.

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