In Italy Father’s Day is celebrated in March rather than June. Observing the Feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph) on March 19th Italians celebrate sainthood and fatherhood with a larger than life Italian doughnut-like pastry known as the zeppole. Regional designations include the fritelle, sfinci or bignè and are generally variations of a fried sweet eggy batter filled with custard, jelly or a cannoli-style pastry cream. Every family has their one and only favorite recipe for this gigantic cream puff said to have originated on the island of Malta.
Zeppole were popularized in Sicily during the Middle Ages when after a severe drought the people prayed to St. Joseph to bring rain and he complied. Apparently there was only one catch – prepare huge quantities of zeppole every year on my feast day and Italians have been licking their fingers ever since.
We usually focus our posts on Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria but today we’re going further down the boot to the Italian village of Acciaroli on coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea in the Province of Salerno. One of Italy’s 284 Blue Flag Beaches (an award given for water quality, beaches and marinas) the village may also have found the key to a longer life where 300 of its residents are over 100 years old with impressively low rates of Alzheimer’s and heart diseases.
An ancient maritime village, Acciaroli is also part of “Cittáslow“, a philosophy of municiple living that follows the succession of seasons, respectful of the health of its citizens, the authenticity of artisan products and good food, with places for the spirit, unspoiled landscapes and respect of traditions through the joy of a slow and quiet living.
I think we just don’t get Italian pizza. One summer when my friend Luca from Perugia stayed with us he was severely traumatized by an American pizza. He went so far as to say “it frightened” him. Overloaded, over indulged, American pizzas are far from the true interpretation of the Italian pizza; thin crust, simple toppings, fresh ingredients.
The classic version of the Italian pizza was first created in Naples in 1889 for Queen
Margherita of Italy. A pizza was made in honor of the Queen’s visit with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil (representing the colors of the Italian flag; red-white-green). The mozzarella cheese was made from buffalo’s milk which had never been used to make a pizza before. The Queen was pleased and the pizza was named Pizza Margherita in her honor.
Up to that point, pizza had been considered peasant food and could not be made in the royal ovens. But Queen Margherita loved food and was not to be denied, after all why should the peasants have all the good food to themselves. She wanted to eat in the common way as evidenced by this catchy little rhyme my cousin Lidia made me memorize on my first trip to Italy ” la regina Margherita mangava un pollo con ditta” translated loosely to mean even the Queen eats (chicken) with her fingers so relax . . enjoy Italy and its food!
Try to find an authentic Italian pizzeria for a Pizza Margherita. In Italy neighborhood pizzaioli (pizza makers) follow strict guidelines for ingredients, making dough and cooking. The dough must be kneaded by hand or mixers which do not cause the dough to overheat and the dough must be punched down and shaped by hand. Only wood-burning, bell-shaped brick ovens are used to cook the pizza on the surface of the oven (often made of volcanic stone) and not in any pan or container, with oven temperatures reaching at least 400-430° C (750-800° F). These ovens often have to heat up for hours before the first pizza is cooked. My friend Luca says that if a pizza takes longer than 10 minutes it’s not a true Italian pizza!
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.