Getting The Pasta Right For Pop
"Mamma would wait on the balcony of our family apartment. As soon as she spotted my father, my brother and myself coming around the corner at the bottom of the hill, she gave the signal to our cook to drop the pasta into the pot of boiling water," recalls journalist Gaetono Afeltra of his childhood in Amalfi of the 1930s.
Knowing the precise timing of cooking pasta for dinner is the special province of the family matriarch. Too soon, and the pasta comes to the table barely warm, its sauce congealed. Too late, and the meal is ruined by bad tempers and impatience. Italian food historian Massimo Alberini writes in his book Maccheroni e Spaghetti that in southern Italy, in the days before telephones, husbands sent their wives messages via runners from their offices: “I’m leaving now, start the pasta.”
"My mother would then take over in the kitchen," Afeltra remembers. "She never left the pot, tasting and re-tasting the pasta until the raw white of the pasta disappeared except for a tiny white dot at its center that she saw when she bit into the strand of spaghetti." This is "il punto bianco,” “the white point,” the key in southern Italy to that instant when pasta is just right. The moment must be seized, the pasta drained immediately. Family contentment pivots on that tiny white point at the heart of pasta.
—excerpt from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, which just arrived in the mail today. I’ve never heard of il punto bianco but I am quite familiar with the bubbling anxiety that accompanies boiling pasta water.