St. Paul of the Cross was a prolific letter writer. Thousands of his letters survive and in many of them, he mentions food. There are references to tuna and chocolate, chicken soup and pasta, cheese, and coffee. Each week in this series we’re investigating a food mentioned by Paul of the Cross in one of his letters and seeing how it figured into the cuisine of mid 18th century Italy and we’ll be sharing a recipe that is similar to one that Paul and the early Passionists might have used. We hope that visitors to our blog will share their own recipes and other insights into the “culinary world” of St. Paul of the Cross.
Many of the surviving letters of St. Paul of the Cross are addressed to nuns. Here he is writing to Mother Angela Cherubina of Jesus and Mary to thank her for pasta.
As I thank you in Jesus Christ for the charity of the pasta, I am happy that you were well served and thank the Lord for that. Enclosing all of you with your Mother Abbess in the Holy side of Christ, I sign myself,
Your useless servant,
Paul of the Cross
When Paul thanked the Reverend Mother for the pasta in 1763 he was referring to a food that had been served in Italy for over 400 years. Italian pasta is descended from Asian noodles. Archaeologists believe these noodles were produced in Central Asia as far back as 1000 years ago. By the 13th century, pasta was gaining popularity in many parts of Italy, well before the time of Marco Polo.
Pasta has long been a staple food of the common people because of its affordability, shelf life, and versatility, so we believe that is turned up on the table in Passionist monasteries quite regularly.
How did St. Paul of the Cross eat his pasta? He may have enjoyed a classic staple of cucina povera – the traditional Italian peasant-style cooking that makes as much as possible with the fewest ingredients; Spaghetti aglio e olio made by tossing spaghetti together with garlic and crushed chili sautéed in olive oil.
Believe it or not, one of the most popular pasta recipes in the 18th century both in Italy and in America were versions of Macaroni and Cheese. Here’s a recipe from 1784.
At this time of year when the weather is still quite warm and tomatoes abundant we suggest this No-Cook Fresh Tomato Sauce as a more seasonal pasta alternative to Macaroni and Cheese.