The Spaghetti Tree by Alasdair Scott Sutherland
In 1957, the British knew so little about Italian food that, when the BBC’s Panorama programme screened an April Fool story about an unusually heavy spaghetti harvest, most viewers didn’t spot the hoax. Fifty years on, Italian food is a staple of the British diet. More…
In the 1950s most Britons had never eaten spaghetti, except from a tin, and few knew where it came from. Italian ingredients such as peppers, ricotta and basil were scarcely available in the UK, and olive oil was something you bought from the chemist.
Sutherland’s entertaining tale starts in 1959 with the opening of La Trattoria Terrazza in London’s Soho. With its authentic dishes and informal style, it quickly became the most influential restaurant in town; its success sparking the ‘Trattoria Revolution’. When a teenaged Sutherland visited Trattoria Terrazza in 1964, it awakened in him, as it did in countless others, a lifelong passion for Italian food.
The Spaghetti Tree charts the colourful social history of the ‘trat scene’ in the Swinging Sixties, recounting how Britain’s love affair with Italian food began with Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla, the legendary owners of La Trattoria Terrazza, who set the scene for other ‘pasta pioneers’, from Antonio Carluccio to the River Café’s Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. It’s a story that begins in the streets of Soho and branches out to the kitchens of the nation, and it’s been nothing less than a revolution in our food culture.
As Sutherland shows, we’ve come a long way from that evening in 1957 when the august voice of Richard Dimbleby spoke with great seriousness of the “Vast spaghetti plantations in the Po Valley” and bemused a nation.
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