Macaroni cheese and all that

sausage pastaDespite having a diverse culinary heritage inspired through invasion, it seems we British are more interested in mastering Italian cuisine than our own traditional dishes. A new European-wide survey by Apetina cheese found that 61% of the Brits that responded would prefer to cook as Pietro and Paola rather than Peter and Paulas. But I've got news for those pasta throwing wanna-bes – ravioli and macaroni have been part of British culture for centuries.

Worcestershire SauceIt all started with the Roman invasion. This was bad news for those unlucky Brits slaughtered on the battle fields but once we realised the Ities weren't going anywhere, we natives adopted their ways rather quickly. The result: hypocausts and tesserae and kitchen gardens planted with the 'Italian' staples of fennel and garlic.

And taste buds that take a liking to the resultant gloop left after the flesh, bones and entrails of mackerel and anchovies are steeped in a barrel of water. A modern version of this salty sauce still adorns many dining tables today – Lea and Perrins 'Genuine and Original' Worcestershire Sauce (vegetarians can try Geo Organics Worcestershire Sauce made without anchovy).

And it didn't stop at the condiments. Boiled squares of rolled out flour and water dough (you might add an egg for richness) are started to be eaten and enjoyed. Ravioli gets a mention a few centuries later in a mediaevel cookery book and somewhere along the line dough tubes known as macaroni become a store cupboard stand-by.

The Edinburgh Book of Plain Cookery Recipes (the 1932 version, bought for 50p at a charity shop, is a revised edition of the 1879 School Cookery Book) has eleven recipes for macaroni. Ranging in such delights as:

  • macaroni cheese (baked macaroni in a cheesy white sauce) – a teatime favourite of my mother

  • macaroni and meat shape (a left-overs dish made by steaming cooked meat, breadcrumbs and macaroni)tomatoes on bush

  • macaroni and tomatoes (macaroni in a tomato sauce flavoured with bacon) – an early Spag Bol!

  • macaroni soup (pasta soup is commonly eaten in Italy also)

and

  • macaroni Viennoise (the tubed pasta topped with a rich white sauce flavoured with parsley and capers) – British parsley sauce glamourised with an Austrian tag, but the capers are a Mediterranean import. Quite an adventurous European dish.

This small hardback book of recipes (12/6 net) shows despite the financial struggle many faced during the 1930s, the home cook could still put a bit of 'plain' supper on the table. Long live that traditional British meal ingredient, pasta.