How to gather a crowd? The Pied Piper did it with music, but Vincenzo Buonassisi had better idea. He attracted an attentive audience to a lobby space in Georgetown's Foundry building recently by cooking pasta. The smell of the pasta and its simmering sauces at lunchtime brought them in from all directions and, of course, they stayed to sample.
The reason for this unusual cookout was simple. Buonassisi was promoting a book with a title that says it all "Pasta."
He had to overcome a few handicaps (he is not a chef and is a practicing intellectual) to win the title of Mr. Pasta in his native Italy. But he did it to such an extent that he has contributed 56 pasta recipes to the menu of his neighborhood restaurant in Milan. "None of them is in my book," he said. "In Italy we used 1,001. For the American and English versions we had to cut back to 653 plus variations. I have another 500 (later he amended that to 'nearly 1,000')." The American version is published by Lyceum at $14.50.
According to the author, this Plethora of recipes attests to the "typical individualism" of Italians and the "creativity of pasta."
A bright and bouncy man in his late 60s, Buonamist considers himself more historian than cook. "As a critic for newspapers, I would travel to various cities and, after the show, go to eat. I began to think how food reflects civilization and eventually became of member of the Academy of Italian Cooking. It was founded by journalists to preserve our culinary traditions and to trace our recipes back to their origins.
"I refused to write recipes. I wanted to write about food from the historic point of view. At first I wrote about the great musicians - Verdi and Rossini - and the food they loved. For 10 years I collected pasta recipes, not only in Italy but from other countries."
Among some of the historic trivia he serves up in a readable and informative preface to the recipes: Italians, he says firmly, did not invent pasta. It came with the Greeks and (as laganoro or lasanon ) and from North Africa, but not from China. Marco Polo brought back dried pasta from Java, not China, and wrote that it was "similar to our own lasagna." A will drawn in Genoa in 1279, before Polo's adventure, lists a chest of maccheroni .
Buonassisi, born in Southern Italy but a resident of the north, was eager to put to rest another myth: That Southern Italians are devoted only to pasta while Northern Italians are rice eaters. "Fresh pasta was made all over Italy," he said. "The best fresh pasta of all is made in Bologna and that's in the north. But dried pasta with a hole (in other words, the tubular pasta thatt became spaghetti was introduced into $ [WORD ILLEGIBLE] by the Arabs."
Naples is regarded as the world's pasta capital, but it wasn't always thus. Only after the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] arrived from the new world, was accepted as safe and became the base for so many sauces, did pasta become overwhelmingly popular. Even then it wasn't until the 18th century that pasta literally was taken out of the hands of the common people. A chamberlain to King Ferdinand II invented the four-pronged fork, making it possible to present pasta at royal banquets without forcing guests to use their hands.
For all his historic precision, Buonassisi takes a very relaxed attitude toward recipes and rules of preparation. "In the book," he said, "I give exact recipes. We use pasta with holes when there is a lot of juice or sauce. I suggest the specific pasta that is best, but when it is not a problem. I write only "pasta." You may make changes in a recipe. As long as it's done with pasta, it will be good. The most important things are to cook well (not overcook) the pasta and to salt the cooking water."
Buonassisi had enjoyed his tour of the United States and, thorough researcher that he is, he wanted to taste a dish he had only heard about - spaghetti with meat balls. So he ordered it in a New York restaurant. "They had run out," he said with a very Italian shrug. "Maybe next time."
Here are three recipes from "Pasta" that were prepared under Buonassisi's direction at the Eizzoli bookstore in the Foundry Building during his visit. SPAGHETTI WITH GARLIC AND OLIVES (4 to 6 servings) 1 pound spaghetti or vermicelli, cooked 5 tablespoons olive oil 2 cloves garlic 1/2 pound black olives Parsley
Heat the oil and add the finely chopped garlic. Before it starts to brown add the coarsely chopped olives and a good handful of chopped parsley. Cook for a few more minutes and then serve with the hot pasta.
Variations: 1) Add a tablespoon of capers with the olives. 2) Serve freshly ground black pepper with the sauce. 3) Add some breadcrumbs browned in a little olive oil to the finished sauce. SPAGHETTI WITH SMOKED SALMON (4 to 6 servings) 1 pound spaghetti, cooked 2 cloves garlic 4 tablespoons olive oil 4 ounces smoked salmon 2 ounces black olives 3 ounces cream 1/2 pound tomatoes Oregane Dried mint Salt
Cook the garlic in the oil and when it is just beginning to brown add the smoked salmon, cut into thin strips or julienne. Stir gently, add the seeded and chopped olives and the cream to make a sauce. And the pureed tomatoes (this gives the sauce a lovely color) and season with chopped mint, oregano andd a little salt. Simmer for a few minutes and serve with hot pasta. MACARONI WITH PORK SAUSAGE AND EGGS (4 to 6 servings) 1 pound macaroni, cooked 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 ounces butter 6 ounces fresh pork sausage 5 eggs Salt and pepper 3 ounces grated parmesan
Heat the oil and butter and add the skinned, diced sausage. Cook over low heat with 2 tablespoons warm water. Crush the sausage with a fork and mix with the hot pasta. Pour over the eggs beaten lightly with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Remove from the heat, leave to stand for a minute, then serve with grated parmesan.