We were talking about the hierarchy of pasta. It is not all the same, it is not all a matter of shapes, I said. They are clear and distinct separate foods.
I have tried to be open-minded, I said. I have sampled nearly all of them – except the orecchiette, which just creep me out, and the alphabet letters, because why would you cook up a pile of them for a snack? Maybe for a soup -- I suppose that’s what they are traditionally for -- and not for forming Bible verses on squares of felt, which is the association they will always have for me. I do not think of them as food at all, but as craft, which is why I have never purchased them.
At the top of the line are your strands – angel hair, vermicelli, spaghetti, fettuccini. Pasta that holds up another dish without getting in its way. A foundation food, such as starches are meant to be, and not something that competes with a fine cut of meat or vegetables for position of main dish.
Next comes filled pastas: ravioli and tortellini, specifically, though I admit I can not abide gnocchi and don’t consider it pasta at all. Too pasty, too dense. Now come tubes. They sound good when you say their names; they look appealing in the photo on the box, but they take too long to cook and never hold up the next day. Ziti, elbows, manicotti. Shells are more tubes than filled, no matter what you put in them. Tubes aspiring to a higher station in life.
I put the twirls and spirals next, though some are more tolerable than others. The rotini is nice, for a salad. Holds dressing well, and comes in different colors. Fusilli is as appetizing as so much boiled rubber bands, and those short squat wagon wheels are completely useless. And at the bottom of the whole heap are the shapes, allowing for a certain amount of stars and alphabet letters before a gulf separates them from wagon wheels, whimsical holiday icons, and panting to the finish line dead last…the bow tie.
I had said “What are you cooking,” and he said, “Bow Tie Pasta.” I pictured the words in those capital letters, like a challenge– a representation of everything I can not stand. That he would cook a ridiculous waste of some factory worker’s time like a bow-tie noodle, which will slide around a plate not holding up its main dish, not pulling its weight, just running around ahead of a fork wearing its stupid crimped expression, then cooking itself to a crackily crunch tomorrow afternoon in the office microwave.
Bow-ties know their place in the world and they don’t expect to rise above it. We only tease and confuse them by encouraging them to think as the shells do, that they can move up the chain and re-categorize themselves as something decent people will eat. They have neither the humble purity of polenta nor the audacity of gelatin-turned-aspic to move beyond the lot cast to them. They are the pariah of pasta and should be left alone in their bone-dry misery.
That’s what I said. Dead silence from his end of the phone.