The color of gold has been used to describe the culture and cuisine of Italy for centuries. The illuminated halos of gold in Renaissance paintings, the golden tiles of the mosaics of Ravenna and the chic boutiques of Milan’s Qaudrilatero d’Oro (Golden Triangle) have made the color gold an icon of Italian art and design. The golden balls of the Medici bankers were image makers long before branding became a market strategy and the gold merchants along the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s bridge of bling, are indelible examples of the brilliance of Italian gold. The Doges of Venice wore stiff horn-like bonnets (corno ducale ) made of golden brocade and Italian chefs create culinary alchemy with golden grains of saffron flavored risotto and “liquid gold” from Italy’s extra virgin olive oils while fields of golden sunflowers have Italianophiles longing to bask under the Tuscan sun.
But perhaps the most dramatic symbol of Italian gold is not found in the Vatican museums or the jewelry shops of Florence and Rome but in the farmyards near Pisa where Paolo Parisi has taken the lowly egg and elevated it to the status of Italian gold. Parisi’s heritage bred Livornese chickens, fed on a foraged diet supplemented with scraps from the production of cheese from the goats on his farm, are said to produce an egg of such extraordinary flavor (sweet almonds) and texture that they carry a price tag of €8, or $11 for a half dozen. What makes this egg the richest egg in Italy? The fresh taste and a golden yolk that is softer and richer in fat than most with the capacity to incorporate three times the amount of air than the average yolk when whipped. This means that your pasta, zabione, custards and carbonara will be golden in flavor and appearance because of the creamy, buttery yolks of Parisi’s eggs.
To ensure proper delivery an eco-friendly package with a wrapping of organic fabric (embedded with small seeds of marjoram) to absorb shocks during transport was designed. A culinary jewel box for a golden Italian treasure.
Parisi’s Egg 61 Recipe: Eggs in a warm bath at 61 celsius/141 farenheit for at least 20 minutes. Eggs go into a cup with a few simple ingredients:
•small slice of lemon peel
•small sliver of sun dried tomato
Riddle me this Italian food fact – The outside is strong but the inside is delicate and is entered by a knife the opens rather than cuts. The King of Italian cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, requires a specific knife to open and release the sharp yet rich and delicate flavor of this historical cheese from Northern Italy. First created in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Chiaravalle near Milan in Lombardy, Parmiagiano Reggiano is known as a Grana (grainy) cheese, a classification that refers to its flaky and granular texture and because of this is best opened rather than cut into and served in flakes or bite size nuggets.
Coltello “scagliatore”. Reggio Emilia; ferro, legno; circa 1930. I Musei di Cibi, Parma
To do this you need a special type of knife (a scagliatore) with a specific blade; short, pointed and almond shape. The shape is designed not to cut but to open, highlighting the internal structure and the natural grain of the cheese. First, with the tip of a knife to score the surface crust of the massive wheel, impressive in size and weight (typically 18 inches in diameter, about 8 inches high, weighing about 85 pounds) then with two knives used as wedges to open the shape into two halves. Releasing the aroma and sweet grassy flavors of the Po River Valley and the mastery of the caseificio. Cheese stamped with the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” into the rind of every wheel by members of the Consorzio del Formaggio that guarantees the distinctive qualities of this great Italian cheese.
*the Italian word scagliato means flake, chip, sliver, scale
Italian spelling slip ups happen all the time but perhaps the most egregious is the misspelling of espresso. A word that has become part of the common human vernacular and found millions of times in print is listed as one of the top 25 words/phrases that are routinely said wrong. Weird Al Yankovic among others consider it to be a Word Crime that we should be held accountable for. After all we don’t say “ex-PESH-uh-lee”, do we?
Malfatti translated into English means “poorly made.” An Italian slang term for a mistake. But a possible negative becomes a powerful postive in Italy where malfatti is symbolic of an ideal simplicity found in straightforward dishes made from the highest quality ingredients. Similar to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi where imperfection can be turned into a thing of beauty and doing more with less is an art form. Bringing good food to the table doesn’t have to be a chore and recipes don’t have to be complicated to be good. Italians typically focus on the quality of ingredients rather than the number of ingredients. Italian cooking is founded on generational recipes that are handed down through the oral traditions of the great kitchens of Italy, with simple straighforward ingredients impeccably crafted as a well-designed Brioni suit.
Maltagliata Pasta. Made from scraps and offcuttings left over after other pastas have been made. This “poorly made” pasta has become so popular in certain parts of Italy that some companies actually deliberately manufacture it, rolling out large sheets of dough and cutting them into rough irregular shapes. An ideal simplicity ready to be combined with the perfect sauce to create an Italian malfatti.
First there was instant now there’s immediate as in coffee on a stick. A spatula-like spoon loaded with a coffee mixture that dissolves into a cup of steaming water. Just select a stick, dip and swirl and like magic your hot cup of water is transformed into a latte, macchiato, cappuccino, mocha or Americano. This immediate caffeine fix by Chinese designer Heo Jeong Im has generated a wide spectrum of comments ranging from a mere novelty, the most convenient way to have your coffee or another contributor to an increasing amount of food related eco-waste. Before we dismiss this as a minimalist coffee drinkers dream let’s applaud the designer’s creativity, dip into the waters and see how far it goes.
One of the best ways to spend time getting to know the region you are traveling through in Italy is to spend at least one leisurely afternoon visiting an Italian museum. Even if you are the most museum adverse person on the planet you cannot help but be amazed and engaged in Italian museums. Often in evocative settings – palaces, castles, churches, amphitheaters , monasteries, wineries and quirky out of the way sites – the authentic ambiance of seeing something in its historical setting can be awesome and memorable. Afterwards have a merenda, a mid-afernoon snack. A small bite of cheese and fruit, a slice of salumi and olives or a local specialty would be good.
Created in 1948 by Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio Galoppini, Tex Willer is the most famous comic strip in Italy. Still published today, Willer is a Texas Ranger who fights, with his three friends, against all sorts of evil. A little like the Lone Ranger in an Italian-made interpretation of the American Old West. There are lawmen and Indians, trappers and bandits but in typical Italian fashion there is also a fantastical collection of magicians, illusionists, wizards and an Irish boxer as well as El Morisco, a warlock, scientist, naturalist and doctor from Memphis, Egypt and the Black Tiger, a Malay prince from Borneo. My Italian friend Rita from Piacenza loves Tex Willer. Years ago she asked me if I knew Tex Weller and Kit Carson. Carson yes. Willer no. And although Kit Carson seems pretty tame by Tex Willer standards on my next visit to Italy I brought Rita a book about Kit Carson – Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West. It was the most sensational title I could find but I warned her that it couldn’t compete with her hero Tex.