I think I noticed literary gastronomy for the first time in Tonino Benacquista's Holy Smoke (which I have reviewed here). Nipped over to the library to borrow it again, just so I could excerpt the following passage for the perfect penne arrabbiata.
Bianca waited for me before having supper. Without saying so, of course.
Yes! I said, famished. Penne is like short macaroni, cut diagonally. And the sauce is 'rabid' because it is made at great speed and it's spicy.
"When my mother makes a sauce it takes a good three hours," I say.
"It should. A real tomato sauce takes either less than ten minutes or more than two hours, because in between you get all the acidity of the tomatoes. Tomorrow I'll make cannelloni, if you like, Antonio..."
She blushes a little for saying that and I can't think where to put myself. On the table there's a huge bow of pistachios. I taste a couple of them.
"Would you switch the TV on please, Antonio?"
"There's nothing good on at the moment, but it helps me with my cooking."
"Of course it does... Here, I'll teach you how to make arrabbiata sauce. It's quarter to eight. Put RAI on."
A jingle introducing a sequence of advertisements.
"Put the water on to boil and at the same time heat a whole clove of garlic in a really hot pan until the end of the ads."
The smell of the simmering garlic wafts over to me. The ads come to an end. She asks me to zip onto the fifth channel where a boy standing in front of a map of Italy is predicting 95°F tomorrow.
"As soon as he starts the weather you can take the garlic out of the oil. You don't need it any more, all the taste has gone into the oil. Put the peeled tomoatoes into the pan. When he's finished the weather, the water'll be boiling, tip the penne in. Switch to Channel Four."
A gameshow presenter, an audience ,hostesses, giant dice, numbers lighting up, excited participants.
"When they give the results of the draw, you can stir the sauce a bit, and add a little tin of tomato puree, just to give it a bit of colour, a couple of little chillies, no more, and leave it on a high heat, don't cover it, it'll spit all over the place but they say than arrabbiata sauce is only really good when the kitchen's splattered with it. Switch to channel two."
A Brazilian soap opera filmed on video, two rather starchy lovers arguing in a living room."At the end of the episode it's the news and it'll be time to eat. The sauce and the pasta will be ready at exactly the same time. Fifteen minutes. Did you get that?"
Without realizing it I had accumulated a little pile of pistachio shells in front of me. Nervously, I eat a couple more. The worst thing for dulling your appetite.
The steaming hot pasta arrived on my plate. A delicacy to set the palate on fire. I've always been wary of girls who know how to cook.