The bizarre legend of macaroni with meat sauce, invented in Naples by a magician

by Federico Quagliuolo

According to a note legend, the macaroni would be born in Naples thanks to the alchemy of a mysterious man magician called Chico. The story is told by Matilde Serao in his book Neapolitan Stories and Legends and is reported, with the same seriousness of a Pastafarian, from many local guides, websites and even books.

In reality it is one fantasy story invented by Serao (with a lot of naivety) and, among many primates of Naples, certainly does not appear the invention of pasta, which probably comes from the Middle East and arrived in Italy thanks to Sicilians and the Genoese. Then the Neapolitans discovered it and have it made an art, so much so that in the 19th century in Italy the southerners were nicknamed "macaroni eater", Even before the term was invented"southerners“.

The figure of the "macaroni eater"Became such a famous cliché in the negative by forcing the Minculpop, during the twenty years, to prohibit the sale and distribution of postcards and images depicting Neapolitans intent on eating pasta.

A Neapolitan craze, that of macaroni, which second Matilde Serao she would be born in an apartment on Via Cortellari. A nice and naive legend which still tears a smile.

Giorgio Sommer Maccheroni
Uphotography by Giorgio Sommer. It is actually posed and done in the studio.

The legend of Chico the magician and the macaroni

According to Serao, the legend is set in the year 1220, under the reign of Frederick II of Swabia. Naples was one of the most beautiful cities of the Kingdom of Sicily and, in the narrow and cramped via dei Coltellari, lived a magician on the fourth floor of a warehouse. He was called Chico and he was a man of oriental origins, no one knew anything about. The doors were always closed, the windows were darkened from the dust. The only certainty was that, the few times it was glimpsed on the terrace of the house, he remained motionless for hours and hours, in front of one boiling pot.

The only one authorized to leave the house was the domestic: entered and left the building loaded with herbs, including rue, marjoram, basil, parsley and tomatoes (?). At night one could be seen faint light in the house and a shadow folded up ancient books.
They ran over him terrifying voices: it was definitely a black magician, a sorcerer, a very powerful man who made sacrifices to who knows what devil.

Chico actually had a elegant appearance and possessed a long one White beard. It had once been a handsome and successful man. He fell out of favor after having spent all the assets in women and parties and, since then, he retired to this house in the center of Naples. In fact, he decided to try to create something so beautiful and good to be remembered forever. It could not have been something from then eat.

La bizzarra leggenda dei maccheroni al ragù, inventati a Napoli da un mago

The theft of macaroni with meat sauce

After many years of intense work, he finally invented the recipe for macaroni with tomato.

For joy, Chico let his guard down and noticed only the neighbor, one of them Jovannella, he was spying. She was a servant of Royal Palace (which one?) and reported the recipe by thread and by sign to the cooks of King Federico, in hope to get recognition as the "inventor" of the recipe.
The woman was brought in kitchen And "he kneaded flour with water, salt and eggs, handling the dough to refine it and reduce it as thin as a canvas. Then he cut it into small strips, rolled it up into small torches and put them to dry in the sun. Then he put lard, onion and salt in a pan, then meat and tomato juice, letting everything simmer.“.

THE macaroni with meat sauce they were a success. Frederick II went crazy for it and gave every honor to Jovannella. The woman, then, he told the recipe to all of Naples, becoming known to be the "angel" who invented pasta. When Chico found out about it, he went mad with anger and disappeared into thin air.

La bizzarra leggenda dei maccheroni al ragù, inventati a Napoli da un mago

An innovation "stolen" from Sicily, with many inaccuracies

Alberto Consiglio, a Neapolitan journalist who has dedicated an entire volume to the reconstruction of the history of macaroni, "dismantles" the story of Serao completely, explaining that it was a naive plagiarism of several works from which the Neapolitan journalist was inspired: "Contes Drolatiques" and the "short stories" of Masuccio Guardati.

Some things are true: first of all the macaroni is likely to be arrived in Naples between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries (thanks to the very close contacts with the Saracens, which also gave rise to Market Square, and in the presence of Arabs in the Swabian court). However, they also alternate gigantic mistakes, like the presence of the tomato at the court of Frederick II or the presence egg within the recipe of the pasta, which brings it closer to egg pasta cannelloni with meat sauce.

Before the city of Naples, which did not yet occupy a central role in the politics of the kingdom, the center of the world was Sicily. And it was in Sicily that the fresh pasta, which it probably was spread by many Muslims and by the Sicilians themselves who frequented the ports of the Mediterranean. A text by the Muslim writer Idrisi (lived between 1095 and 1165) in fact he says that Trabia, in the province of Palermo, era the most famous city where pasta was produced.
Probably the Muslims residing in Naples, at the beginning of the past millennium, had to be imagined as "magicians" and as sorcerers.

Even the Northern Italy has its own legend, in this case linked to the Venetian explorer Marco Polo which, according to a popular tale, would have brought the pasta from China. This is certainly not the case.The only truth is that, already in the medieval era, Genoa was among the main grain sellers in the Mediterranean and it is probable that Sicilian or Arab influences also came from parts of Liguria.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Alberto Consiglio, The history of macaroni, Canesi, 1959

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