Saturday, July 20, 2013

Spaghetti with Marmite

There are few strict rules about pasta condiments in Italy. Some are verbalized ("no grated cheese on seafood pasta"), others are unspoken because considered obvious ("no ketchup anywhere"). Since I moved from Italy some nine years ago, I found myself easing up on some of the sacred rules of Italian cuisine. I think it's only natural to adapt and relax when you're safely removed from judgement, and I suspect this is how some of the Italian-American dishes that baffle actual Italians came about. (Yes, I'm talking to you, "Italian" sub.)

Yesterday I broke one of the unspoken rules of Italian cuisine by letting myself be tempted by a recipe by Nigella Lawson, British cooking goddess and sex symbol extraordinaire. The recipe is spaghetti with Marmite, which could be an act of war in itself if it wasn't for the fact that most Italians have no idea about what Marmite is. I can tell you this, though: They would never dare spooning a brown and sticky by-product of beer with no real expiration date on their spaghetti.

Spaghetti with Marmite (pre-cheese).

In the recipe's introduction, Nigella explains why this pasta is not total lunacy and/or a diplomatic disaster, justifying this pasta with the previous existence of "a traditional day-after-the-roast pasta dish, in which spaghetti is tossed in stock" that I never heard about but that I'm not going to question because 1. I might be wrong and 2. I have a crush on Nigella.

Moreover, my Sicilian grandmother, in a possibly misjudged attempt to modernize her cooking, used to prepare an especially odd spaghetti with butter and soy sauce. This spaghetti with Marmite did not sound all that weird to me in the end.

Nigella's recipe calls for a mixture of melted butter, Marmite, and a little bit of pasta water, an addition I always applaud. Grated Parmigiano on the finished pasta adds even more flavor. I did not use regular spaghetti because I did not have any. I used instead some spaghetti alla chitarra imported from a recent trip to Italy: These are slightly thicker egg spaghetti with a porous, uneven surface that are traditionally made using a string instrument called, you guessed it, "guitar". As usual, I drained the spaghetti a minute before doneness and sautéed them in the diluted buttery Marmite for a few minutes.

Dead Chef's verdict: The first forkful was a little disappointing, only because Marmite's saltiness had not been communicated to my brain fully. After the third bite, though, I was hooked, which is the definition of the Marmite Effect on open-minded foreigners.

The Italian and American friends who heard about this experiment are skeptical, but my toddler and I, who ate two fantastic portions, are fans. Thank you, Nigella. Although I'm not sure my Italian passport won't be revoked for this.

Would/Did you try spaghetti with Marmite?


  1. Wheat noodle+glutamate+salt recipe algorithm:
    1. select noodle from {udon, spaghetti, ramen, spätzle, ramyeon, fideos, etc};
    2. select ≥1 condiments from {parmigiano, shellfish, ripe tomato, cured meat/sausage, mushroom, anchovy, bonito, seaweed, dashi, miso, soy sauce, kimchi, sauerkraut, black bean paste, ajinomoto, worcester sauce, etc};
    3(optional). include few other ingredients to round out the taste/texture/appearance;

    Dishes from the formula: shoyu ramen, spaghetti alle vongole, Krautspätzle, tagliatelle al ragu, jajangmyeon (you tried it in Beltsville), yakisoba, fideos a la cazuela, pan mee, etc.

    The genre archetype is instant cup noodles: basically ramen+MSG+salt+decoration.

    Though nontraditional in the role, marmite is another salty and glutamate-heavy (almost twice as much as the already-impressive parmigiano) ingredient, and its texture can coat the noodles rather than making a soup, so why not add spaghetti+marmite to the list?

    Elderly often suffer reduction of umami sensitivity, associated with appetite loss and poor nutrition. Research suggests glutamate supplementation can help. Maybe grandma self-medicated with the soy spaghetti?


    1. Dear L,

      For some reason I read your comment only today. Blogger should forward me all comments on the blog, but it doesn't despite me having demanded that through settings.

      I despair of you ever reading this since you logged in as "anonymous", but I want to let you know I really enjoyed your comment. A true joy to read.

      Thank you, and I hope to see you soon again among these pages.