From leftovers to broken threads, ‘Brazilian-style’ pasta takes it all and is repeated for generations


Raise your hand if you’ve never indulged in a plate of very creamy oven-baked macaroni, full of ingredients, au gratin under a mountain of grated cheese. Or with a good tie or screw salad, mixed with canned tuna, vegetables and a dollop of mayonnaise.

On this October 25th, International Macaroni Day, it is quite likely that a good portion of Brazilians will celebrate just like that — without al dente cooked pasta or authentic Italian sauce.

Introduced to the masses by immigrants, the Brazilian didn’t do ceremony. Over the years, he has been transforming the preparations, adapting ingredients and inventing forms of consumption that make any Italian’s hair stand on end.

We arrived at recipes so Brazilian that it is difficult to see any Italian accent in them, besides the pasta itself. This is the case with the numerous variations of oven noodles, which here have the status of party food – in 2021, the Google Trends tool recorded a peak in the search for these recipes between December 19 and 25.

There is also the macaroni mounted in a roasting pan, which mixes ingredients such as cottage cheese, shredded chicken and chopped ham. After baking, the recipe is unmoulded like a cake and even receives decorations on top.

Pasta cooked in a pressure cooker? We also have.

On YouTube, videos that show how practical it is to combine the pasta with the sauce items, and cook everything together for a few minutes, accumulate thousands of views –642,800 in the case of the video posted by influencer Mohamad Hindi in 2020.

“Today is the day the Italians cry…”, he teases at the opening of the video, before starting to prepare the recipe that takes fresh sausage, ground beef and peeled tomato.

It is interesting to note that several of these Brazilianized recipes are part of the repertoire of families of immigrants who came from Italy.

Great-granddaughter of Italian, chef Heloísa Bacellar grew up in the interior of São Paulo and has a vivid memory of the taste of the oven-baked pasta her grandmother used to cook. She carried white sauce, ham and shredded mozzarella.

“She would assemble the pasta in the Pyrex dish, cover it with Parmesan cheese in a packet and bake it. Then, she would cut it into squares and leave it in the fridge. We ate it cold, for an afternoon snack.”

Raised in the countryside of São Paulo, chef Mara Salles, from the Tordesilhas restaurant, also has Italian blood. But her mother, Encarnação Salles, Dona Dega, cooked the pasta in the rustic style.

“I remember the macaroni dyed with paprika, which used to be the tomato. On Sundays, it was served with chicken in a pot: the bird in the center of the platter, the pasta around it. During Holy Week, the classic was the pasta with tomato sauce and canned sardines, the fish carefully arranged so they wouldn’t fall apart. And every soup also had pasta”, says the chef, who published the recipe for the bean soup with ave-maria noodles in the book “Ambiências – Histórias e Receitas do Brasil” ” (DBA editor).

Another descendant of Italian immigrants, Maria Stella Ferrari from São Paulo grew up eating homemade pasta prepared by her aunts for lunch, in beautiful Sunday rituals that always started the day before.

At her house, however, the tight routine due to the three children required more practical recipes – such as the oven noodles, whose wires were stretched to the roast, in layers, interspersed with two sauces, white and tomato, more cheese and ham. sliced.

“It was the pasta of despair, which I made when I had nothing else to invent”, he jokes.

Delegate of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in São Paulo, the Italian Gerardo Landulfo says that pasta in the oven also appears in his country – but in another way.

“It’s a resource to use leftovers, just like the frittata di pasta, made with eggs. But it never takes so many ingredients. Only in Brazil is it common to use everything in the fridge.”

The first pastries in São Paulo, at the end of the 19th century, contributed to making pasta no longer an artisanal dish, which required time and experience, and becoming a quick and practical food for everyday life.

The Massas Christofani, from 1878, are from this period; the Adolpho Selmi Pasta Factory, from 1887 (still in operation, manufacturer of the Renata and Galo brands); and Pastificio Fratelli Secchi, from 1896.

The pasta of durum grain took a century to arrive here and remains restricted to a small portion of consumers – just over 2%, concentrated especially in large centers. In deep Brazil, the pasta that reigns is still common, which can contain eggs or semolina and is never al dente.

The habit of buying long, darker spaghetti, which comes packaged in paper, is also resisted. One of the best known brands is Liane, founded in 1963 in Presidente Prudente (SP).

The threads are about 50 cm long and do not fit in any pan, which helps to explain another ingrained habit among Brazilians and despised by Italians – that of breaking pasta when cooking.

“My grandmother used to make chicken broth and cook the pasta in it. I would break the dough and throw it inside, because I didn’t have a big pot at home”, says Mara Salles.

The shortcrust pastry is the basis of a typical recipe from the Midwest, the entourage pasta, born in the Pantanal’s pawn troops.

According to chef and researcher Paulo Machado, the broken spaghetti must be fried, along with the jerky, before being cooked in water. “There are few seasonings, garlic and parsley. The consistency resembles that of a risotto.”

Of all the Brazilianizations imposed on pasta, however, the one that most deviates from Italian traditions is certainly the habit of putting pasta on the plate, alongside beans and rice, meat and salad.

From the bars in São Paulo to simple restaurants in the countryside, this is how pasta (almost always cooked spaghetti) appears at PFs – and goes out for a walk in lunchboxes. Nothing more Brazilian.

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