We had to laugh yesterday. We were eating lunch in our favourite Ostuni lunchtime haunt. A family run restaurant, the staff are exceptionally nice. The food is great.
Some Northern European visitors were at a table next to us. One had ordered spaghetti alle cozze (with mussels). The lady asked for some grated cheese for her pasta. The very pleasant and polite waiter simply said no, before going about his business, explaining:
“We don’t have cheese with seafood pasta”.
The lady agreed and ate her pasta without grated cheese.
It is generally uncommon to find grated cheese, particularly Parmesan or other hard cheeses, served with seafood pasta in Italy. There are a few reasons behind this culinary practice:
- Tradition and regional customs: In many coastal regions of Italy, especially in the south, seafood is a prominent part of our local cuisine. We have a strong culinary tradition that emphasizes the natural flavours of seafood, and adding cheese to seafood pasta is not part of our traditional recipes.
- Culinary balance and flavour: Seafood pasta dishes often feature delicate flavours that can be easily overwhelmed by the strong, salty, and umami-rich taste of grated cheese. The combination of cheese and seafood may create an unbalanced flavor profile and diminish the freshness of the seafood.
- Respect for the ingredients: Italians have a deep respect for the quality and integrity of each ingredient in a dish. Adding cheese to seafood pasta could be seen as an attempt to mask or alter the natural flavours of the seafood, which goes against the principle of letting each ingredient shine in its own right.
In Italian-American cuisine grated cheese might be served with seafood pasta. Ultimately, the choice to include cheese with seafood pasta is a matter of personal taste and cultural adaptation.