Fare La Scarpetta, The History Of This Italian Tradition
Who has never heard his grandparents say the expression “fare la scarpetta”? Literally “Making the little shoe” is a nice expression that finds its origin in the dialects of southern Italy. It is officially defined as the act of “collecting the remaining sauce in the dish by passing a piece of bread impaled in the fork, or more commonly held between the fingers.
But be careful, the Italian Galateo does not prohibit “la scarpetta” but wants it to be done only on informal occasions and using a fork, not hands. That said, the origin of the expression is not clear. Some think that the “scarpetta” refers to a type of pasta that, given its concave shape, would have allowed it to collect the remaining sauce in the dish. Others, on the other hand, think that, due to the gesture considered to be not very elegant as described by the expression, we go back figuratively to the object “scarpetta”, a light and flexible shoe, to allude to an action of a very hungry person because poor.
We still have two explanations for the phrase “fare la scarpetta”: one is a sort of metaphor and compares the shoe that is worn to the bread that passes through the plate. Like the shoe crawls on the ground and collects what it finds, in the same way it is done with the bite of bread that collects the sauce. The second one refers to the word “scarsetta”, or poverty, which forces people to settle for what is there, usually very little, and look at the other’s dish to enjoy their miserable leftovers.
What is certain is that in Italy, any type of sauce, especially those that dress pasta, are “cleaned” with a nice piece of homemade bread, to leave nothing on the plate. It is an ancient ritual. First probably only of the poorest, but which today everyone appreciates on informal occasions. Surely the little ones on Sunday morning started even before the pasta dish was ready, tasting the ragù directly in the cooking pot. Then, at the end of the meal, everything ended with a nice piece of bread to clean up the dish!