That's a question Elizabeth Minchilli, an American who has lived in Rome for years, is constantly asked. Full disclosure: The food writer happens to be on the slender side herself.
Her answer comes in the pasta chapter of her new book coming out April 7, "Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City" (St. Martin's Griffin, New York, $25).
"Yes, we do eat pasta every day. And yes, even I can manage to eat a pasta course followed by a meat course," she writes. Here's the secret — and it doesn't involve a Never Ending Pasta Pass at the Olive Garden.
"The pasta we are all eating comes in a very controlled portion. When it comes to eating pasta, Italians are very measurement conscious. And it's a very easy formula to follow: 100 grams (3-1/2 ounces) or less of pasta per person. It is never a heaping portion like one you would expect in the States."
In the '90s, Los Angeles Italian restaurants routinely served pasta in giant bowls, each portion enough to feed three or four. That's what people wanted. And if the portions at Buca di Beppo are anything to go by, many people are still enthralled by that abbondanza.
When Evan Funke first opened Bucato, his ode to handmade pasta in the Emilia-Romagna style, he got some complaints about the portion size at the Culver City restaurant. But he really was only serving pasta the way the Italians eat it, not as a main course, but as one course in a multi-course meal that includes antipasto, primo (first course), secondo (second course) — and contorno (or side vegetable) at the very least.