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Dry, with chopped tomatoes, oil-based condiments, and fish sauces

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The term clearly derives from the word spago, or "string" as a reference to the shape of the pasta. This was probably the first pasta to be produced with a die, perforated with simple cylindrical holes. The thinner versions are also referred to as capelli d’angelo, capelvenere, fidelini, sopracapellini, and spaghettini, and the thicker ones as filatelli and spaghettoni. It is interesting to note that there is no pasta known merely as spago, the neutral form of the word.


This is, without doubt, the best-known pasta shape and the most representative of Italian cuisine in the world. Pizza and spaghetti still epitomize Italian culture for foreigners in their first encounter with Italy's culinary traditions. The first written report of a long pasta, known as vermicelli and synonymous with spaghetti, dates back to the twelfth century. Even in that distant age, pasta traveled across the Mediterranean Sea, becoming widespread in the Italian ports and in the cities that then encouraged its spread to the inland regions of Italy. Spaghetti could be found from Sicily to Sardinia, and in the ports of maritime cities such as Genoa, Amalfi, and Pisa. But it was in the Gulf of Naples that the greatest guild dedicated exclusively to pasta-making was established. Stemming from the guild of bakers and known as the Arte dei Vermicellai, the association soon became independent thanks to a special statute of 1579.

According to tradition, spaghetti were the main pastas used to prepare a dish with pesce fuggito ("escaped fish"): sometimes, in the absence of anything better, real fish was replaced with ingredients such as seaweed or porous rocks from the seabed, which, boiled with various spices, created a savory fish-flavored broth in which to cook the pasta. These special recipes also inspired the famous acqua pazza ("crazy water") from Lazio.

«In Amalfi, the sea was our food. As kids first and as youngsters later, we fed on the sea. At the beach, we would dip a tarallo into the brine. When wet, it became soft and tasty. We would wait for the wave and just reach out our hand. [...] Later, in the dark, to avoid being seen, the women would come to fill their small earthenware jars. They would step into the water barefoot, twining their skirts above their knees and dipping their jars, which would fill with a quick gurgle. Every now and then someone would be fined: it was forbidden by law to take water from the sea. But, in the end, the officer would give in to the pleadings and the signs of respect, and would revoke the fine. What was important was to never be without seawater at home. Cooking spaghetti by mixing a cup of saltwater to freshwater meant giving them such bite that they, seasoned with garlic and olive oil, tomato, parsley, and chili pepper, not only remained "al dente" to the point of making a noise if a single strand fell into the dish, but they also acquired the taste of fish. As a matter of fact, the real name of this soup is spaghetti with fujuto fish—in other words, the ‘fish that got away.’ A pearl of peasant cooking.»
From: Afeltra, Gaetano, Spaghetti all’acqua di mare, Salerno (I)
Avagliano, 1996, pp. 60-64.

A recipe


Spaghetti with seafood

Ingredients for 4 servings

  • 3/4 lb spaghetti
  • 1 lb clams
  • 1/2 lb baby squids
  • 5 oz shrimp
  • 12 scallops
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 chili pepper
  • Salt


Wash carefully the clams, changing the water several times, to avoid any residue of sand.
Clean the calamari under running water and cut them into small pieces.
Shell shrimps taking care to eliminate the black wire, then cut into small pieces.
Open the scallops shells with the aid of a small knife, carefully introduced between the two valves. Remove the scallops, remove the black wires, wash them and cut in half.

In a pan sauté gently 2 tbs of the evo oil with the whole peeled garlic and the chilly.
After few seconds add the chopped parsley and the clams. Put a lid on and let the clams open.
Remove clams from valves, just leaving some as a garnish. Filter it carefully the obtained broth and set aside.
Haet a large teflon pan and cook the calamari for a minute, then add the shrimps, the scallops and finally the clams, together with their filtered broth.

Cook the spaghetti in lightly salted boiling water, drain them al dente and pour into the pan with the fish sauce.
Add the remaining extra virgin olive oil to create an emulsion and some fresh grounded white pepper.