Spaghetti, like its ever-popular ‘brother,’ lasagne, has been a traditional food for a very long time. It’s truly difficult to envision the world without this classic staple of Italian cuisine. Because each region of Italy has its own variations on the theme, everyone has their favourite way of fixing it, and the dish has inspired many a company that makes pasta sauces to put out different varieties of sauces that have helped people put food on the table for their families in a matter of minutes, rather than going through the complicated process of making homemade sauce.
But how did spaghetti get its start? What are the many variations? We answer these questions about spaghetti’s variations and history, so read on to find out more about what is likely one of your favourite Italian dishes.
In case you’re wondering, the word ‘spaghetti’ is not a singular form. It’s actually the plural of the Italian word spaghetto, which, in turn, is a diminutive form of the word spago, which means ‘long string’ or ‘twine.’
Originally, spaghetti was quite long, but over time, shorter lengths of about 25-30 cm (10-12 inches) became more popular, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century. While semolina flour is traditionally used, other flours, particularly those without gluten, have been introduced to the market, thanks to the continual rise of coeliac disease diagnoses.
Spaghetti, in its longer form, is said to have had its origins in Sicily about the 12th century. The 19th century, with the growth of spaghetti-making factories, saw the rise in popularity of the pasta throughout Italy.
Later on, in the United States at the end of the 19th century, spaghetti was served as a dish simply called Spaghetti Italienne, though at the time, the spaghetti sauce was made using cloves, garlic and bay leaves. The spices we know now—oregano and basil—wouldn’t be seen till many decades later.
Where there is a theme, there are variations. Spaghetti is no exception, considering each region of Italy often lends its own twist to the pasta. Some variations from around Italy include:
- Spaghetti aglio e olio. This is a very simple yet tasty preparation with garlic and olive oil, and depending on desire, red pepper flakes. But the basic instructions are these: mince or press garlic and saute it in olive oil, and toss with cooked spaghetti. Add parsley or freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese if desired.
- Spaghetti con pollo e funghi. As you might guess, this is spaghetti with chicken and mushrooms. As with any pasta dish, if you use cheese, make sure it’s freshly grated.
- Spaghetti alle vongole. This is translated as ‘spaghetti with clams,’ and it’s a dish you can find just about anywhere in Italy. But you might especially find it in central Italy, particularly Rome and further south in Campania, where it’s an integral part of Neapolitan cuisine
- Spaghetti with meatballs. An Italian-American variation, spaghetti with meatballs did not arrive on the ‘scene’ until the early 20th century, when Italian immigrants to America’s shores reputedly invented the dish. Many writers have mocked this dish as ‘pseudo-Italian’ because while the meatballs in the Italian-American dish are often large, meatballs are both small and uncommon in Italy. However, different pastas with meat are part of the cuisines of southern Italy, particularly Sicily, Abruzzo and Apulia.
These are just some of the common variants that show up on many Italian restaurant menus. If you’ve mostly had the Italian-American variant so far, try a different version just to wake up your taste buds and have an altogether new experience with one of Italy’s most traditional foods.