In 1932 the always fun-loving Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, leader of the Italian Futurist party, an art, literature, and political movement full of arty Fascists, published The Futurist Cookbook (La Cucina Futurista). Having had enough of the Italian people’s complacent outlook on life and embarrassing military performance, he zeroed right in on what he perceived as the main problem: pasta. Pasta was making Italians soft and lazy. It was not a food for fighters. He went about replacing all Italy’s gorgeous, traditional dishes with wacky, mostly repulsive, high-tech recipes, staging dinner parties, and even opening his own restaurant in Turino called the Holy Palate.
Years ago, after picking up a copy of La Cucina Futurista in a thrift shop and becoming fascinated with it, I staged a Futurist dinner party of my own, centered on one of Marinetti’s more famous dishes, “sculpted meat,” which I interpreted as any meat formed into a fast car or a plane. It being the l980s, I created a rocket ship out of ground chuck, decorating it with capers and strips of American cheese, finishing the base with shredded kale and radishes, a sort of steak tartare dildo or possibly Christmas tree. As eye-catching as it was, it became repulsive and wasteful the moment people started digging into it, and only one guest genuinely enjoyed it. He, very sadly, went on to off himself a few years later. (I’m not sure there was any correlation. I hope not.)
More appealing to me were Marinetti’s cocktails, which he called polibibita, for instance spumante with cauliflower bits, lemon slices, and roast beef floating on top. His Devil in Black Key consisted of orange juice, grappa, chocolate syrup, and hard-boiled egg yolks. A favorite cocktail, one I actually liked, was made with Barbera wine, lemonade, and Campari and finished with a toothpick threaded with chocolate and cheese. My all-time favorite was the Great Waters, a mix of grappa, gin, and pastis, with a square of anchovy paste on a wafer floating on top. These adorable cocktails were meant to liberate Italians from stodgy convention, possibly through regurgitation, and they were fun to make. I think I could have handled the drinks better if I could have also had a dish of pasta.
Marinetti’s diet obviously didn’t leave a lasting impression, since Italians still eat pasta and only an American would still drink any of these cocktails.
And as I’ve discovered through my own forays into diet cooking, pasta doesn’t have to pose a diet problem, as long as you do it right. So here is my pasta manifesto, just a few easy rules to keep in mind when preparing pasta, so it won’t slow you down:
1. Cook all pasta very al dente, in true Roman style. Firm pasta digests slower than the mushy stuff, keeping you fuller longer and anchoring your blood sugar at a good working level longer.
2. Try whole grain or whole wheat pasta and cook it al dente. The added fiber in these pastas, plus the firm texture, keeps your blood sugar from rapidly spiking as it would if, say, you ate a baked potato and a few slices of white bread. Pasta made with eggs, such as fettuccine, is also a wise choice, since the protein in the the eggs lowers its glycemic index.
3. Toss your pasta with an ample amount of protein and vegetables, such as clams, broccoli rabe, beans, prosciutto, or shrimp. The added protein will lower the glycemic index of the entire dish.
4. A pound of pasta really will serve five. I always make a huge salad to have after serving pasta. Just knowing it’s there waiting helps me curb my pasta gluttony.
And just to show what a card Marinetti really was, here’s a photo of him shoveling spaghetti into his mouth from a bucket, not even bothering with a plate. What a slob.