Eurooods Part VI: Pasta

Saturday, 11 December 2010

There are some foods that are particularly European. Maybe people think of fine wine, truffles, baguettes and ravioli. But for cyclists there are some particular foods that stand out. As part of a series about food in Europe for riding, here’s the sixth: pasta.

Sans sauce

Product description
Pasta is Italian for paste and it is a product based on the combination of wheat and water, often with an egg or two mixed in. The dough is then shaped into various forms, from string-like spaghetti to parcel-like ravioli. Tales suggest Marco Polo brought noodles from Asia to Italy. Today it is a staple and strongly associated with some types of regional cooking in Italy.

Some of my favourite Italian cuisine includes pasta. Even the thought of some dishes is enough to make my mouth water. But forget thoughts of lemon scented linguine dusted with parmesan or ravioli filled with pumpkin and goats cheese, with some truffle shavings on top.

No, I’m talking cycling pasta. The kind you end up eating for breakfast, the kind that is served in a chain hotel. This is what the cyclist has to contend with.

A bit tasty

First, pasta for breakfast. It’s a cheap form of carbohydrate but for me, eating it at breakfast is just wrong. That doesn’t stop many riders from having to sit down, bleary eyed and include some for breakfast. It’s not every time but it’s not uncommon for riders in a stage race to tuck away some bread but also a bowl of pasta.

Second, hotel pasta. You’ll often be ok in Italy but try getting a plate in France and it’s consistently over-cooked. Italian cyclists often lament about this, they like most of their pasta al dente but sadly many hotel kitchens in France serve up something fit for guests without teeth.

Finally, forget rich sauces and intriguing fillings. For the disciplined cyclist, pasta often means a bit of olive oil, maybe some pepper and sometimes a very light amount of parmesan cheese. Rather than a rich dish, this is pure fuel. I suspect this is why cooking it right is so important to the Italian riders.

  • As a footnote, if you are in Italy then consider buying fresh pasta. But if you want something else, then look up Pasta Zara which is available in many shops. It’s also available in the USA too. They back several teams and races in Italy. Give them something back.

This is part of a series on European foods with links to cycling or simply for fuel:
Part I: Nutella
Part II: Pâte de fruits
Part III: Stroopwafels
Part IV: Coffee
Part V: Frites
Part VI: Pasta
Part VII: French Bakeries
Part VIII: Water
Part IX: Sirop
Part X: Pharmaceuticals
Part XI: Summary
Part XII: Esta Thé
Part XIII: Grated carrots
Part XIV: Speculoos
Part XV: Belgian beer
Part XVI: Oman Coffee
Part XVI: Italian Ice-cream

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{ 7 comments }

Anonymous December 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

Before long and hard races my choice of breakfast is I think the greatest sin one can do to pasta: Pasta with ketchup. As you nicely said, just fuel, not a meal.

Paul December 11, 2010 at 9:26 am

Before running the Edinburgh Marathon earlier this year, I had pasta for breakfast. Never again! I was heaving at the last two spoonfuls. Maybe it was the cheap sauce that accompanied it.

The ketchup idea ^ appeals to me more.

Reuben December 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm

This says its the fifth – but VI and the previous editions suggest it is actually the sixth :-)

Thanks for the insight – is it a richer meal when had as dinner opposed to breakfast?

TheInnerRing December 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Thanks Reuben, the perils of copying and pasting the same intro paragraph!

For the cyclist it's often a lean meal either way, little more than a plate of wet dough. For me I've managed to eat it after a race when frankly damp cardboard looked appetising. But for breakast, it never worked. You'd just shovel each mouthful down for the sake of energy.

As for ketchup? Maybe that's a US thing? It might help but I don't see the Italians adopting it!

David N. Welton December 11, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I think it's somewhere in the Italian constitution that they can imprison you for putting ketchup on pasta.

The 'correct' recipe for "spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino" is to fix up some spaghetti, then mash up a clove of garlic, and put it along with some chili into some olive oil, let it simmer a minute and then mix it up with the pasta. It's tasty, quick, and fairly light if you don't go heavy on the oil or the Parmesan cheese on top.

TheInnerRing December 11, 2010 at 6:09 pm

David, you know your cooking. Of course it is winter now so time for all the things that some think twice about during the season. Buon appetito.

Craig November 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Pasta with eggs … breakfast of champions.

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