A typical, Sunday, pre-lunch scenario is a bunch of people queueing for fresh pasta. It’s not that they enjoy wasting their time but the very thought of those sorrentinos or ravioles melting in their mouth makes it all worth it!
The numbers speak for themselves. Weekly consumption of dry pasta is about 7.5kg per inhabitant per year, and on weekends and Sundays in particular, another 1.5kg of fresh pasta is put away, generally with a couple of bottles of red to wash it all down.
That is an Argentine uniqueness: a Sunday treat is a good plate of pasta (or asado, which we discussed in an earlier article). It is not so much the gathering of the family around the table, which is rather an Italian custom. The strange thing, even by Italian standards, is that there is such fascination for stuffed and fresh pasta and that in every neighborhood of every city in Argentina there is a house dedicated to its production. And each one, needless to say, has its specialty, which is legendary among its regulars: in some, they are stuffed with chicken, or ham and cheese, or ricotta with walnuts; in others, with vegetables or cow’s brains!
The abc of fresh pasta
Unlike dry noodles you buy in the supermarket, fresh pasta is made and sold daily. Like bakeries, pasta houses must work with their ingredients whilst they are fresh, as the dough is made of flour and eggs, and doesn’t keep well. So these businesses are all over the place in the cities, and match or exceed the number of grills. The tradition is not only an Italian one. In Buenos Aires, in the 1940s, 85% of the pasta houses were in the hands of Galician immigrants, according to the magazine, Brando. Today they are owned by natives, but the mix favoured the incorporation of new recipes.
So, what is known in the world as ravioli, in Argentina is known as raviol and is slightly different, a little bigger and with a whole host of fillings. Another much loved dish is sorrentinos. Similar to ravioli but round like a bowler hat, they are usually stuffed with ham and cheese, or a variety of cheeses, and are one of the favourites! In the world of pasta, they’re the ones reserved for holidays and incidentally, they are local invention: created in the 1930s in the Buenos Aires restaurant, Sorrento, where it took its name, where a creative chef from Mar del Plata gave life to this passion. There are other versions which state that they originated from Mar del Plata itself, but wherever they are from, they are an undisputed local delicacy.
With so much fresh pasta being consumed on weekends, a well-known brand called La Salteña, has launched a campaign that invites you to have “Sunday lunch in the week” with their ‘ready to eat´ spaghetti. While another big pasta house, La Juvenil, says the success of his company, which today has 23 branches was due to the invention of a particular type of ravioli: Portuguese chicken, with which the Bermudez family amassed a small fortune.
The filling and the sauce
Sunday pasta is eaten with red wine. It’s rare that it is cooked with seafood, so the pairing is always the same. However, there are reds and reds when we talk about stuffed pasta, especially the sauce.
For just as we buy a portion of ravioli or a box of sorrentinos, these pasta houses also provide sauces to accompany them. And so without much effort, we have a varied range of sauces from carbonara, a cream based sauce, to pesto, with lots of basil and olive oil to Portuguese sauce made with aubergine and tomato, or fileto, which is tomato, garlic, salt and olive oil.
For any of the above, you can’t go wrong with an everyday, medium-bodied, fruity red. In particular Bonarda, whose aromatic freshness, with a hint of peppermint or eucalyptus, works wonders with tomato and spices. A young Malbec is also a good choice, as it brings a meaty texture with fruity aromas, which go well with tomato-based sauces. For those who prefer cream sauces, however, they are best enjoyed with high-altitude Chardonnays, whose unctuous feel and freshness enhance the flavour.
In any case, pairings are not that important when it comes to pasta. Because if there is something that makes the Argentines choose this dish it is that they are filling! And so, as is local custom, these dishes are not only about what you choose to drink, but above all they are associated with all the family packed in together at the table. Something that is so Argentine, like pasta, to save the tedium of a Sunday.