Lidia Bastianich Says Doing This To Pasta Is A 'Criminal Offense'

In her brand-new PBS special "Lidia Celebrates America: Overcoming The Odds," Lidia Bastianich takes her annual trip across the country to meet and hear the stories of regular but remarkable people. And because it's Bastianich — a world-renowned author, restaurateur, and cooking show host — she also brings viewers a glimpse of the foods and food traditions important to these folks. 

In "Overcoming The Odds," one of those people is Jarrett Adams, who spent a decade in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Eventually exonerated, he went on to become an attorney who helps others falsely accused of crimes. As Bastianich shares his story of perseverance and how memories of cooking with his grandmother helped Adams get through his ordeal, she also cooks with him over Zoom. The dish they cook together is one of her favorites: Bucatini with Pancetta, Tomatoes, and Onions. 

Bastianich takes Adams through the steps of slicing pancetta and sautéing onions, but issues a stern warning about one of the ingredients. As Adams prepares to drop the bucatini into boiling water, Bastianich cries out, "Don't break the pasta!!" Adams laughs — and fortunately for him, he does not break the pasta. Bastianich seems relieved. "I thought you were going to break the pasta," she says. "You know us Italians: That's a criminal offense." Perhaps she chose those words especially for this attorney-cook, but it turns out there are indeed some strong opinions about breaking pasta. 

Here's why Italians say you should never break pasta

Is breaking long pastas like spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini really a "criminal offense" as Lidia Bastianich says in her PBS special? Considering that Serious Eats uses almost the exact same words to describe the act, it seems the answer is yes! "If anyone wants short pasta they should buy short pasta," they say. "Breaking long pasta to fit it in the pot is criminal negligence." 

So why is it that there are such strong feelings about simply snapping some spaghetti in two? Chef Carolina Garofani shares via Medium that the reason is simple: Pastas like these are meant to be enjoyed long and twirled around the fork, holding sauces and flavors tight within the coiled strands. Garofani also points out that tradition and technique are sacred in Italian cooking and dining, and Italians take these quite seriously. Breaking long pasta into pieces is like breaking those very traditions, which is why Italians like Bastianich cry out in horror at the sight, or even the threat of it!

Does breaking long pasta into smaller pieces make it taste bad or cook improperly? Garofani says no, and humorously adds that you won't actually be sent to jail for the act. However, doing so means running the risk of losing the respect and friendship of your Italian friends, after first hearing them scream at you. Our advice? Just enjoy those long strands of pasta the way they are!