Pasta has become a cornerstone for many a meal around the world — and it’s probably not as bad for you as you think. Whether it’s a lonely bowl of mac-n-cheese in front of Netflix, or a mind-blowing parmesan cup of Cacio e Pepe on the streets of Rome, pasta is universally beloved. We often view pasta as a delivery mechanism for whatever we flavor it with: A nice Bolognese, a little Alfredo, some red gravy — maybe even a few anchovies, some garlic, cherry tomatoes, olives, and shallots for a nice Puttanesca.
We love pasta, but we probably don’t spend much time contemplating the chefs toiling over boiling pots of salty water and simmering pans of ragu in an over-heated kitchen to make it just for you.
Today, let’s celebrate (and rank) our favorite pasta chefs from film and television who have braved the kitchen to teach us a few tricks and educate our palates. This one’s for them!
Primo — Big Night
Big Night follows two Italian immigrant brothers trying to make a go of their very traditionally Italian restaurant in 1950s America. It’s a challenge to say the least. Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub make a brilliant dyad of give-and-take as the manager and chef respectively. The whole film culminates in one big night when the siblings show off what real Italian cuisine is supposed to be. Best of all? You can make the infamous Timpano pasta course (the same one that might make someone want to “f*cking kill you” because it’s so good) with this handy recipe from The New York Times.
Carl Casper — Chef
“You sit. You eat. And you vomit those words back.” Carl Casper is pretty low when we meet him in Chef. Well, only as low as someone who’s dating Scarlet Johansson can be. That’s still a big win. It’s with ScarJo’s character that Casper makes a simple and delicious plate of Pasta Aglio e Olio — or pasta with garlic and oil. The chopping of that much garlic is probably the hardest part. After that, it’s just a matter of frying the garlic and tossing in some amazing noodles. A little lemon and some fresh herbs and you have a stellar pasta course.
Udo Cropa — Dinner Rush
“I don’t even want to know. I need to make something amazing right now!” Udo Cropa says in the scene from Dinner Rush below. Deep-fried Spaghetti with lobster in a champagne sauce is that something amazing. Taking things to the next level is what Dinner Rush is all about. Although it certainly came on the coattails of Big Night’s success (phrasing), it’s a much darker film. But it still stands the test of time by giving us one amazing pasta course for the ages. All you need is champers, a lobster, a little deep-fried spaghetti, oh, and a full pro kitchen and staff. The movie conveys how hard, and insane, it is to create something unique in a world of competitors all vying for the same awards, accolades, and customers.
Mario — Mostly Martha
Sometimes pasta is so good you just can’t resist. Mostly Martha is about a German chef who has to care for her wayward niece while she runs a top-notch restaurant. Martha’s niece, Lina, will not eat anything Martha cooks, which means #CinematicConflict. Enter Mario, an Italian sous-chef. Mario makes a simple Pasta al Pomodoro and adds in some freshly grated parmesan and fresh basil. Then he sells that dish to Lina as if his life depended upon it. Simple. Elegant. Delicious.
The Swedish Chef — The Muppets
Welcome to the nostalgia corner. Sometimes it’s not all about the sauce. Just making the pasta can be a challenge. That’s the case with the Swedish Chef of Muppets fame. Maybe he should have let the spaghetti escape the pot before it became Attack of the Killer Spaghetts.
Artie Bucco — The Sopranos
‘Always have a little sauce ready’ is something Artie probably said at one point. It’s certainly an axiom he lived by. Artie Bucco had a rough go of it in the hard knock Italian-American culinary world of northern New Jersey. Besides having to deal with boiling sauce pots and rascally rabbits, Artie had gangsters generally f*cking his world up. At the end of the day though, Artie could cook a mean Arrabbiata and Coniglio alla Provenzale.
Mama Scorsese — Italianamerican
“You have to keep the meatballs nice and soft.” Wise words from Mama Scorsese. In this short film, shot at a dinner at Martin Scorsese’s parents’ house, we find the famed director’s mother dashing back and forth from the living room to a tiny kitchen to make sauce, meatballs and pasta while his father talks about life, the old days, and the Irish from the living room divan. It’s fascinating. It’s hectic. And if you listen closely, you’ll pick up some crucial tips for making a proper sauce and meatball from the Scorsese matriarch.
Vinny — Goodfellas
“Vinnie was in charge of the tomata sauce.” Prison for the Goodfellas didn’t seem all that bad. First of all, they had dope food to cook every day. They’d divvy up labor and get to cooking. Paulie had the patience to slice cloves of garlic rice-paper-thin with a razor. Vinnie would then fry the garlic in a little oil where they’d “liquify.” He’d always be told to go easy on the onions. Then, he’d throw in “two big cans of tomatas.” According to Vin, you need three different kinds of seared meat in the sauce: veal, beef, and pork! “You gotta have the pork. That’s the flavor!” Simmer. Now that’s a recipe for some good red sauce.
Clemenza — The Godfather
Clemenza was a guy that liked to eat. While Sonny was taking the Corleone family to the mattresses over Vito’s attempted murder, the family and their soldiers were holed up on Long Island at the casa di familia. Clemenza gives Michael an impromptu culinary lesson for making some sauce: Fry the garlic, make sure the tomato paste doesn’t stick, throw in your meatballs and sausages, add a little vino, and then add the secret ingredient. What’s the secret ingredient? Sugar. Brilliant.