The widespread use of this most basic utensil can be credited to the Italians through the tablescapes of Venice and a Medici princess. From the 10th through the 13th centuries, forks were fairly common among Venice’s wealthy trading partners in Byzantium. In the 11th century, the Byzantine wife of a Doge of Venice brought forks to the tables of La Serenissima however it wasn’t until the 16th century that forks were widely adopted in Italy and beyond.
The epicurean tastes of a Medici princess were transferred to France in 1533 when Catherine de’ Medici wed King Henry II, bringing with her Italian recipes and cooks, confectioners, distillers and the fork! French tables and travelers seeing and savoring Italy in the 1600’s were enamored by the slender handled 2-tined instrument that allowed food to slide more easily into the mouth.
In later centuries larger forks with 4 curved tines were developed and soon after the fork became more than a once criticized “excessive delicacy, a luxury of habits” that sufficiently offended the likes of St. Damian,a hermit and ascetic, who criticized the Byzantine-born Venetian princess for her use of the fork at the table that when she died of the plague, he regarded it as a just punishment from God for her vanity.
Today is Rome’s 2,769th birthday and I’m thinking about guanciale, that snowy fat streaked lean red meat from the jowls of the pig (the word “guancia” means cheek in Italian). Guanciale is an iconic ingredient in one of Rome’s most traditional and popular dishes, spaghetti alla carbonara. This tasty bit of face bacon is essential to the flavor of an authentic Roman carbonara as is freshly grated Pecorino Romano. This is not an Italian version of a Vermont maple glazed bacon and eggs but a dish that when expertly crafted (as they do in Rome) is extraordinarily delicious. The hot pasta is combined with the other ingredients then quickly mixed into the pasta making a creamy sauce that must be classically prepared to be truly appreciated.
Here are the ingredients and technique for 4 servings of Roman-style spaghetti alla carbonara.
8 ounces guanciale, diced
1 pound spaghetti
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
In a large pan, fry the guanciale over medium-high heat until rendered and crisp, about 10 minutes.Beat eggs and pecorino together in a small bowl with a fork and set aside. Cook the spaghetti to al dente, then drain, return to pot, toss with guanciale and a portion of the rendered fat over low heat and immediately transfer to shallow bowls. Pour egg/cheese mixture over each of the four bowls, add black pepper to taste and quickly mix with a fork to slightly cook the eggs with the hot pasta. The result should be creamy, not dry. Serve immediately.
I’m not referring to Da Vinci’s less than angelic meetings with a certain Renaissance Pope but rather to this past January when Pope Francis and Leonardo di Caprio met in the Vatican to discuss climate change, a topic that is of concern to them both. Di Caprio with an interest in environmental philanthropy and Francis who is very much committed to protecting “our common home”. Pope Francis offers a papal letter Laudato Si’ (Praise Be to You) as an appeal for a “new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet”. Leo offers a childhood story he shared with Francis about a picture of “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” which he said hung over his crib.
A great image for Earth Day (April 22, 2016) of both secular and divine celebrity joining efforts to bring attention to the care of creation. A match made in heaven to save the Earth.
According to Italian coffee icon Illy, shape matters when brewing your espresso and who better than Alessi, an icon of Italian design to interpret the new shape of the traditional moka pot. The Alessi designed, Illy inspired “Pulcina” espresso coffee maker is boastfully described to improve and enhance the “organoleptic properties of coffee” because of its curvaceous shape.
Pulcina’s full-bodied shape enhances the full-bodied and rounded aroma of the coffee because of the internal shape of its special heater. Based on the special shape of the boiler , Illy has identified the ideal shape that the water boiler should take to produce the perfect cup of coffee while automatically stopping the filtering of the coffee at the right moment. This interruption helps to eliminate the eruption phase (called in the world of Italian coffee ‘the Stromboli Effect’ or the seepage of foam from the coffee) the final filtering stage that generates a burnt and bitter aftertaste, ensuring that only the finest qualities of the coffee are preserved.
Michele De Lucchi, Pulcina’s architect of design, even considered the coffee maker’s spout. A pronounced pout with a ‘V’ shape, reminiscent of a baby chick’s beak, hence the name pulcina. The spout is specially designed to perfectly cut the drops into your Illy designed cup.
A camera aboard Sentinel-2A, the ESA’s (European Space Station) polar-orbiting, multispectral high-resolution imaging mission launched in June of 2015 is part of a fleet of satellites monitoring our environment from 488 miles (786km) above the Earth. Designed to observe and map biophysical variables for land, water use and agriculture, onboard instrumentation can record some pretty amazing terrestrial events like leaf chlorophyll content, leaf water content, leaf area index and forest growth. In regions that contain large amounts of chlorophyll (essential for plant growth), healthy vegetation shows up as bright red. As expected Italy’s green heart is a healthy red.
Po Valley in Northern Italy
Avezzano in Central Italy
The vivid scarlet hues as seen in this Sentinel 2-A image, taken of the Po Valley in Northern Italy and above Avezzano in central Italy, show that the fields of Italy are lush, verdant and red! Click on the following link for more of Sentinel 2-A’s view of the fields and lakes of Italy.
Today math and science lovers are uniting to celebrate the world’s most famous irrational number Pi on the date which matches its value: 3.14. I thought it might be a good day for us to look at the irrational side of Italy for an Italian inspired Pi day. Remember psychologists tell us that seemingly irrational preferences may be the best thing for us and let it be noted that the wisdom of Italy is to each his own.
Here are a few seemingly illogical expressions of Italian culture and living that may not be so far fetched after all.
- the number of Italian dialects. The fragmentation of Italy until the 19th century into city states, duchies and kingdoms resulted in many, many ways of saying the same thing depending on where you come from and to some extent your economic and cultural background.For example the sentence”The kids play in the park” translated into standard (classical) Italian is “i bambini giocano nel parco”. While in Rome you might hear “i bambini giocano ner parco” and yet another variation to be heard in Sicily or Genoa. Confusing for those of us learning the language but makes perfect sense in regional conversations.
- certain rules and unspoken regulations to ward off bad luck aka superstitions. As in it may be bad luck to work in the gardens or orchards on a certain day or giving away a sprig of basil to a lover will make him or her faithful or never plant beans on days spelled with “r”. Associations of cause and effect where there are none or common sense folk advice?
- cappuccino is strictly for breakfast. And totally forbidden during meals and never drunk after 11:00am. Fresh whole milk can sometimes play havoc with your digestion so drinking it early in the day may have its benefits.
- olive oil, vinegar, lemon and salt are the only ingredients for dressing salads. Sensible, simple and healthful – enough said.
Smoked Mozzarella and Sun Dried Tomatoes
Not the smoking kind but the kind made with phyllo pastry filled and rolled with an Italian inspired savory or sweet filling. So versatile. You can literally add almost any filling. Begin by preheating oven to 325 degrees F and lay a sheet of phyllo dough on a clean dry work surface. Use a pastry brush to brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter. Fold the phyllo sheet in half lengthwise, resulting in a 12 by 8-inch rectangle. Brush the top of the phyllo with melted butter. Fill as desired and carefully roll up the phyllo dough into a cigar shape. About half way through the rolling, tuck in the 1-inch ends of the phyllo dough, and continue rolling. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet, seam side down, and brush the top with butter. Bake until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.
- slices of smoked mozzarella with a few pieces of sun-dried tomatoes
- Italian sweet sausage, cooked, drained and crumbled; mixed with whipping cream, dijon mustard and nutmeg
- a paste made with ground pistachios, ricotta cheese and honey
- combine apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, and amaretti cookie crumbs to make this phyllo strudel recipe than re-purpose as cigars
- sautéed selection of finely chopped mushrooms in a little butter, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper with splash of creme fraiche at the end to give it richness
- slather with chocolate hazelnut gianduja and roll
- spread dough with La Bella Angiolina Ligurian Basil Pesto
For the savory versions of this dish you can vary the flavors of the brush of melted butter using garlic and or fennel seeds before adding your fillings.