Because no other language is more romantic than Italian here are 7 sentiments of affection to write in that special card for an Italian inspired Valentine’s Day. Pair that with a sparkling bottle of Rosa Regali Brachetto d’Aqui or Franciacorta, a slice of Tiramisu or baci di dama cookies and a cuddle on the sofa to watch Heath Ledger in Casanova for a perfect Valentine’s Day.
Did you know that the Vespa motorcycle fork is similar to a light aircraft’s landing gear?
That’s because Italian industrialist Enrico Piaggio, the Father of Vespa, had been working on a project to produce a motor scooter for several years, but with disappointing results. Faced with Italy’s crippled post-war economy and the disastrous state of its roads, Piaggio realized the need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation that could revitalize the country and make travel easier. A prototype called the MP5 (Moto Piaggio no. 5) or “Paperino” nicknamed “duckling” or Donald Duck was not successful. Piaggio approached Corradino D’Ascanio, an aeronautical engineer, to redesign the scooter.
At first D’Ascanio was less than enthusiastic about the project not being a fan of motorcycles, believing them to be bulky, dirty, difficult to ride and unreliable. Piaggio persisted and inspired by the tiny American-built military motorcycles used by the Allied troops as they fought against the Germans in Milan and Turin encouraged D’Ascanio to design a comfortable and practical scooter according to Piaggio’s guidelines with a D’Ascanio inspired front fork, like a plane’s landing gear, that allowed for easy wheel changing.
The distinctive narrow waist body shape and buzz of the engine reminded Piaggio of una vespa, a wasp. In 1946, Piaggio produced just under 2,500 machines. By June 1956, one million Vespas flew off the production line and an icon was born.
According to more than one Italian culinary aficionado and our Italian nonni, the magic of Italy is in the water, pasta water that is. The residual water known as l’acqua di cottura (the cooking water), used to boil the pasta is a key ingredient common to all pasta dishes. The cooking water helps the sauce adhere to the pasta better, adds moisture and makes the pasta creamy without adding too much oil or grease.
Mettere un pò d’acqua di cottura nella padella.
from la cucina di Lalla
To make this magical moment happen always reserve a cup or so of your cooked pasta water and add (stirring vigorously) into the pan of almost cooked pasta. The ingredients used to make the pasta are given up to the water and the starch emulsifies with the seasonings and added water to create a beautiful rich sauce known in Italy as a cremina.
My friend Mary Ann Zancanaro loves spaghetti westerns and wrote this a few years ago. The last few months sheltering in place guidelines have revived the genre and internet lists form Digital Trends to Esquire consistently list these films as among the most watched during the COVID pandemic.
Which spaghetti dish pairs best with a nice Chianti on Friday evening at 10:15 pm? For my money it would be a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. If you have ever seen the first 15 minutes of Once upon a Time in the West, you would agree. Recipe for a great opening scene:
1 Desolate landscape shot in wide angle
1 lonely train station
3 grizzled outlaws
1 tough good guy
1 persistent fly
1 squeaky windmill
a few creaky door hinges
some dripping water
1 unforgettable harmonica solo
You get the picture. Some of the most iconic movie images of the American West came to us from the imagination of the late Italian film director, Sergio Leone. (Think: Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name.) As someone who did not have much direct experience in America, what did Mr. Leone know about us that we did not know ourselves? Most of what he knew about America came from Hollywood movies, many of them Westerns and it is this genre that he used to tell his American stories of rugged individualism on the frontier, the struggle of good versus evil, and the promise of a better life in a new land. In my mind, his Westerns can hold their own with those of John Ford and Howard Hawks, two of America’s greatest directors.
How lucky for us that Leone’s classmate in school was the great composer, Ennio Morricone. His spare, haunting music echoes through the empty desert as the perfect complement to Leone’s lonely, wide-angle landscapes. This is not grand opera. It is the sound of an unforgiving landscape, stripped down to its bare bones. Even without seeing them, we know that the vultures are circling. Sometimes it is not ourselves but the outsider who sees us as we are. Leone’s vision of the promise of America may not have been much different from that of my Nonno and Nonna, who came here so many years ago to find a better life. And when this Italian American granddaughter watches a Leone western, she feels right at home.
I’ve written about espresso rubs for grilled meat before but I thought I would do a post especially for Father’s Day. After all, espresso with its intense roasted flavor has a kinship to charcoal. Besides Fathers want to be masters of the grill and rubs (wet or dry) always give an extra kick and wow factor to just about any grilled meat.
So here are 3 Italian inspired rub recipes. One is a traditional Tuscan Bistecca rub. The other 2 bring a shot of espresso to the Italian grill for Father’s Day. An Espresso Jolt Rub that claims to be “the best marinade ever used on a steak” and a Black Espresso Rub with a hint of heat. Both espresso rubs are adapted from Master the Grill, one of our favorite books on outdoor grilling. Be sure to anoint your meat with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil before coating the meat with the dry rubs. Then let the flavor develop for a couple of hours before grilling.
Tuscan Rosemary Rub
2 T dried rosemary
2 cloves of minced garlic
1/4 d finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
1 T cracked black pepper
1 t coarse sea salt
Place rosemary in mortar or bowl and grind or finely crumble leaves to break into small pieces. Combine with the garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Rub onto meat as directed. Can be stored in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Espresso Jolt Rub
1 lemon (zest and juice)
2 c espresso roast coffee
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 T coarse sea salt
1/2 c molasses
2 T aged balsamic vinegar
Combine lemon zest, juice and remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Simmer for 5 minutes to a thickened consistency. Let cool. Massage cooled rub into meat and refrigerate for a least 30 minutes to an hour depending on the type and cut of meat.
(rib eye, tenderloin)
Black Espresso Rub
1/4 cup finely ground espresso beans
2 T finely grated lemon zest
3 T sugar
1 t sea salt and 2 t coarsely ground pepper
2 t garlic powder
1 T ground coriander
1 t ground chipotle chili
Combine all the ingredients. Rub onto meat as directed. Can be stored in a tightly closed contained in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Is there any more visual language than Italian? The release of energy through the spoken word makes Italian one of the most dynamic languages in the world and so much fun to learn. The next time you’re struggling through verb conjugations and trying to figure out why Italian’s make a bath (fare a doccia) instead of take a bath think about the rhythmic beauty of the Italian language and the gestures that give a certain flair and uniqueness to speaking Italian.
Here is a clever way to review some common Italian sayings coupled with the Italian propensione for the use of hand gestures (i gesti) to punctuate an expression.
Un momento! Vieni qui! (Ascolta!) Chissà
(one moment) (you come here! Listen!). Who knows?
*images from ThoughtCo. Michael San Fillippo
Gelato’s not the only dish you can eat from a cone in Italy. You can also get fresh, fried seafood served in a paper cone in the waterfront streets of many Italian port towns. Pesce fritto al cono is basic Italian street food for take out or outdoor seating. Depending on the catch of the day, you can get a cone full of small fish or a fritto misto, a mixture of seafood, shrimp, squid in different combinations.
The seafood is delivered fresh daily and in some cases comes right off the fishing boats that arrive at the port each morning. Your selection gets tossed in a basic flour batter and then deep-fried in front of you. Drizzle a bit of lemon on top and eat it with your hands or the “spear” provided
Our Milanese cousin took us to Il Kiosko on Piazza 24 Maggio along the canals of Navigli for a “live like a local” experience to taste some delicious street seafood. The selection and presentation was amazing. Prepared on the spot. Quick service, simply served at street side tables. Aragosta, calamari, cozze, gamberi, vongola and more. Fish shipped from the upper Adriatic and ports of the Mediterranean, fresh and vibrant. A perfect stop for a bite when walking along the canals in Navigli. Slightly off the tourist flow but so worth it.
An Italian perspective of happiness is the assumption that joy is the nature of all beings and they will not be robbed of it. Not by war, famine, natural disasters or COVID-19. Italians know how to create beautiful moments. Well-laid tables, rich aromas of food and wine, uplifting art and inspiring design. In spite of COVID, Italians still manage to find ways to take the edge off of problems and inspire us to find la bella vita.
Not being able to have un caffè at the local coffee bar is a stab in the social heart of Italy. Coffee has always been a facilitator of joy in good times and comforting consolation in bad times. So how are Italian’s finding coffee happiness during the COVID-19 pandemic when all the bars are closed and all the cups are empty? It seems they stubbornly pursue the pleasure of an espresso even under the most dire circumstances like this Italian man looking for coffee during COVID. Forza Italia!
Life in northern Italy is less than ideal. As of April 11, there have been more than 150,000 cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and almost 20,000 deaths in Italy. Save for a trip to the store and a dog walk, millions of Italians are confined to their homes.
Andrea Buran, 21, lives with his family in Milan. In an interview on March 21, he described what his life is like and what he wishes he would have been told before his country took drastic measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Only supermarkets, pharmacies and newspaper stands remain open, and the few times he has been out of his apartment has been to get food for his family. Buran said most of the people are obeying the new rules, but many continue to go out with their friends. He said, “So many people have been going out with the excuse to go to the store or walk the dog, and they stay out for too long.”
Most importantly, Buran has been writing down his goals for after the quarantine ends. It is one of the many activities he is doing to stay positive and hopeful, especially because the enthusiasm from Italians across the country is dwindling. People used to stand on their balconies to sign to each other and to party, but due to the high number of deaths, “many consider it not as good because we forget about those who are dying.”
He wishes for people in the United States to understand that although it is a sacrifice now, the more Americans stay home, the faster the pandemic will end. He urges everyone to comply with the rules their local and state government have put into effect.
Italian paparazzi took an aerial shot of the Easter Bunny thought to be self-isolating in Artesina in the Italian Alps near Cuneo only to find out that he was an imposter. Made out of wool, this rabbit is a knitted art installation made by Gelitin, a group of 4 Viennese artists known for creating sensational and amusing art events. Lying on a hill in the northern Piedmont, the Pepto Bismol pink rabbit is 200 feet in length and 20 feet high. Installed in 2005, it took 5 years to assemble and looks like a stuffed toy knitted by a Gullervian grandmother for a Brobdingnagian child. The stress of COVID-19 and annual celebrations have literally knocked the stuffing out of the pink hare although the installation is expected to last until 2025 before the fluffy pink rabbit is reclaimed by the mountainside.
To give you an idea of just how big this rabbit is take a look at the people touring the installation walking on top.