Collecting every single drop of scrumptious sauce from a plate with a piece of bread is a long-known pleasure

Imagine a succulent, steaming plate of spaghetti with an irresistibly rich tomato sauce. Imagine rolling your fork in them and savoring all the pasta. What happens when you eat the last strand of spaghetti? On the plate, there is still plenty of delicious sauce, but there is nothing left to eat it with. Or is there? For Italians, one of the most enjoyable parts of the meal is yet to come. ‘Fare scarpetta’ (literally make the little shoe) means to collect the sauce left in the dish by sweeping it with a piece of bread. As with many other Italian ones, the origin of this expression is a visual image. When you use the thumb, index, and middle fingers, the latter two become the legs that push the bread, which imaginatevely turns into a shoe.

It must be clear that you are not expected to limit yourself to tomato sauce. Scarpetta is the quintessential expression of spontaneity, freedom, and light-heartedness. Thus, you can enjoy it with any sauce, from pesto to ragù, from gravy to salad dressing. The best bread to enjoy the scarpetta is one with a crunchy crust and soft inside like the ciabatta bread (whose name coincidently means ‘sleeper’). However, any bread, or even focaccia, can be used to enjoy this satisfying gesture.

Scarpetta is the quintessential expression of spontaneity, freedom, and light-heartedness.

The scarpetta, is a very common practice throughout the Belpaese and it is seen as a way to extend the pleasure of the repast. Indeed, Italian cooks consider it a badge of honor when their dishes are considered so irresistible that the guests feel do not want to miss any of it. Nevertheless, the scarpetta is considered appropriate only during informal meals: with friends and family, or at very laid back restaurants. As Giovanni Della Casa explained in his “Galateo: the rules of polite behavior” (1558), it is generally considered bad table manners on more formal occasions. On semi-formal occasions, the polite version of the scarpetta might be acceptable. This is done piercing the crust of the piece of bread with the fork rather than using the fingers to sweep it across the plate.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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