Source: Pasta and St Lawrence   Leave a comment

The following comment comes from a book describing the experience of an American resident in Florence c. 1890.

On the 10th of August Florence celebrates the Festa of San Lorenzo, and according to custom the weather should be excessively hot. ‘As hot as the day of San Lorenzo’, is a saying generally accepted, the sun’s rays possibly suggesting the glowing coals and gridiron of the noble youth’s martyrdom. Seasons may vary south of the Alps, and in Tuscany one summer is no guide for another. Why should the breeze be cool, with a hint of hail recently fallen on the heights, in its breath that enters the Florence Window, rendering agreeable at any hour of the day a ramble across the Via dei Pucci to the Via Cavour, in response to the invitation of San Lorenzo’s bells? The Riccardi Palace is magnificent in stately proportions of massive stone, barred casement, and great iron rings to hold the torches and standards of the Middle Ages, in the light of the summer morning.

Venders of small wares, brooms, lamps, bird-cages, occupy the stone bench flanking the spacious structure. There is an unwonted crowd, moving of vehicles, and perceptible hum of voices in all of the streets leading to the Piazza of San Lorenzo; and still the bell clangs out above other sounds. We are reminded that it is the festival of the shops selling pasta; and each is made as attractive in decoration of green garlands, tinsel ornaments, and little flags as the skill and pecuniary resources of the shop-keeper can render them.

In the midst the pasta is temptingly displayed, the hard red grain of wheat crushed, prepared, and manipulated into manifold shapes by generations of workers at Naples, Genoa, or Bologna. Here the long and apparently brittle pipes of macaroni are built into gigantic pyramids of interlacing sticks in a window, flanked by the short, tough stems known as padre nostra; there the more delicate white nastrini (‘ribbons’), vermieelli, and capellini – the latter as finely spun as hairs – are arranged in nests and festoons on a shelf, while heaps of tiny golden grains, occhi (‘eyes’), and transparent crescents or stars for soup are piled in bags around the entire interior.

The Italian gourmet will not fail to note the capelli (‘hats’), the small disks of paste to be filled with minced fowl or veal, like Lilliputian patties gently stewed in broth, and served with some subtle flavor of nutmeg, in one of the Case gastronomiche of the Via Porta Rossa, which are ever redolent of ham and sausage. Great wheels of golden Milan butter, the flask of oil, and the odorous Parmesan cheese at hand must additionally tempt a people of a largely farinaceous diet like the Florentines, in such a display. In the Borgo San Lorenzo rises a temple of pasta of fair and accurate architectural proportions, the proprietor of the shop beaming in an obscure perspective of triumphal arches, between columns of twisted vermicelli and with a cupola roof of solid paste overhead. Why is macaroni dedicated to Saint Lawrence by ancient Florence? Is a larger quantity of the nutritious article of food consumed by the town on this day than on any other in the calendar of the year? Was the first Italian who strung the threads in festoons to dry in the air christened Lorenzo? Nobody pauses to answer, and the bells clang on, chanting their own refrain of higher thoughts than mere aliment for the perishing body of man.

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Posted December 18, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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